Not many people had a good 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, but Lennard Kämna did. With stage wins at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France, the young German announced himself as a rider to watch, especially in days off the front. He looked like a key member of the new wave of youth talent coming through that year.
He started 2021 similarly, winning a stage of the Volta a Catalunya solo, but then after a break raced the Volta ao Algarve anonymously. Kämna then announced that he would be taking a longer break from the sport, announcing that he was looking to recover from a longstanding problem with an infection.
That break lasted the rest of 2021, with the Bora-Hansgrohe rider explaining in October to German outlet Weser-Kurier that his "stress increased and I could no longer manage it".
In 2022, Kämna has returned. He won a stage of the Ruta del Sol, again in a breakaway, and then on Wednesday confirmed that he was back with an impressive win on a hard stage three of the Tour of the Alps.
He has clearly repaid the faith shown in him by his team, but this is also an important year, the last year of his contract with Bora.
During his break, the German spent time mountain biking in South Africa, and with his friends and family.
Post-victory in Villabassa, Italy, Kämna said: "Last year was a great opportunity to get right back to rhythm and enjoy riding the bike. That's what we did, like in South Africa. I really enjoyed that time, super happy with it."
In October, he had said: "I felt that I lacked the opportunity to develop other interests. I lived my life wrong. I had missed the opportunity to open up to other experiences and when something unexpected happened my stress increased and I could no longer manage it. It was difficult for me to get out of that tunnel, but now I realise how much I have missed cycling."
Now, back to being a full-time professional cyclist again, the 25-year-old told the media that he is "more stable" in 2022.
"I want to be careful in the future. I think I am more stable. It opened up some opportunities to train a little bit earlier, rethink things, like what exactly I want to be as a rider. I think it helped me. I cannot explain it in detail now, but I'm really glad that I did it, I had a good winter. I was really happy to pin my numbers back on my jersey and ride some races."
His decision to take a break is redolent of Tom Dumoulin stepping back from cycling, although the Dutch rider ended up off the bike for a shorter amount of time. That, too, was related to his mental health.
Earlier this year, Australian tennis player Ash Barty retired aged 25, explaining "I just know that I am absolutely – I am spent – I just know physically I have nothing more to give".
Kämna certainly seems glad to have paused his career and then re-entered cycling, especially as his form still seems there.
"If you are in the same situation like I was, I would definitely recommend it," Kämna said. "You need to have the passion for cycling, you need to have fun, otherwise it’s just a pain to do it. Like everybody who’s on the edge, definitely take a break."
However, he still thinks he has a way to go to be back at his peak, and has room to grow.
"I don't think I'm better than ever," he explained. "I’m still going to my real level, I’m not at 100%."
"I think at the moment I’m not at a spot to be with the best climbers," Kämna said "I feel I have some power, but on the climbs I’m still missing a little bit... I knew I just had to crack the others properly and then I could take the win. I'm not regretting at all to not being in the GC."
As for his win breakaway win, the German said it was a case of attacking hard to get into the break in the first place, and then marking every move in the final.
"I knew there would be a good day for the breakaway," the escape specialist said. "But before I was at the Basque Country and I was not feeling in good condition to be honest. I feel now much better than two weeks ago. I knew if I was in the breakaway it would be super hard to actually win... It was more a case that I had the chance to try, and this is what I did."
Now Kämna will head to the Giro d'Italia with the knowledge that he is both stable generally, and in good form to show his Bora-Hansgrohe team that they were right to keep the faith. It is already a good 2022.
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