After the high of wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France last year, Italian Rinaldo Nocentini faced a gruelling recovery due to a crash and fractured leg sustained in February. He persevered and will make his return to racing on Saturday at the Tour de Suisse.
Despite not racing for three and a half months, Nocentini is already thinking of the next step: the Tour de France. The 32-year-old rode with his Ag2r-La Mondiale team last week.
“I have already had a week-long training camp with the team. I rode the Madeleine stage, 4,000 metres of climbing. I suffered but I pulled through,” Nocentini told Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Last year, the Tour de France gave me eight yellow jerseys, happiness and made me feel like the ambassador of Italian cycling. I feel in debt.”
Nocentini won the Tour du Haut Var in February and aimed to win Paris-Nice in March, but he crashed in the closing kilometres of GP Insubria, February 27, as team-mate Nicolas Roche went on to finish third.
“My leg was smashed and my foot twisted,” said Nocentini. “I have never felt such a pain.”
He faced surgery – one metal plate in his fibula, one in his tibia and 13 screws – and 35 days off his feet. After 10 days walking around with his leg semi-free, he returned to his bike for the first time, albeit on the home trainer. Only two months after his crash did he return to the open road.
“It was the best moment: the asphalt, the air and the feeling of moving the bike with your legs. For someone, like me, who has spent their whole life riding, it was a resurrection.”
Nocentini rose to the occasion last year to take the Tour de France’s yellow jersey on stage seven to Arcalis. He kept the jersey for eight days, the longest, more than Alberto Contador or Fabian Cancellara.
Now, after his recovery, his tests show that he is ready return to the Tour de France.
“My last test was riding a six-kilometre climb near my home, Faeto. I rode it with the same time as before the crash.”
Nocentini will likely have a place on Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Tour de France team given the publicity that he generated at last year’s race. However, he will have to wait until next week, after the Tour de Suisse, when the team makes its final selection.