I have spent recent days in Andorra. It has snowed so I’ve been mainly riding mountainbike and cross-country skiing. I also had some time to reflect. Nine months have passed since my last spine operation. From the moment that I set off on my journey back to full fitness. Thanks to the excellent surgeons I now have the opportunity to return to professional sport. I will always be grateful to them.
I am fascinated by what modern medicine can achieve. I am happy that in our country we have some of the best specialists in the world.
To Prague, to Motol and home
The two operations at the Motol Department for Spinal Surgery have been fundamental in giving me a chance to continue with my cycling career. After surgery in South Africa the worst was behind me. With the team doctor I started to consider where I would continue with my treatment that would give me the best chance of returning to competitive cycling. In the end I decided for Prague. At Motol hospital we have one of the best spinal surgeons in the world and also I would be close to my family.
I knew that the team of doctors led by Professor Štulík and chief physician Kryl could achieve the almost unimaginable. Every year they handle over 1400 patients and specialise particularly in serious cases. I therefore assumed that my operation would be a routine affair for them. In the end, however, it was necessary to almost completely replace my first lumbar vertebra with a metal brace. Thanks to this my back can now withstand the extreme loads that professional sport requires. I am fascinated by what modern medicine can achieve. I am happy that in our country we have some of the best specialists in the world.
Good fortune in ill fortune; I am grateful
Before I went under the knife I spent a few days in the spinal unit. It was there that I became aware of how lucky I was with my accident. I was the only patient there able to move my legs. I met many people there bravely facing up to their situations and despite their serious injuries they took a positive approach to life. I have great admiration for them.
When I returned to Prague, as part of rehabilitation from my first operation in Africa I added peddling on a training machine lying down to my exercise routine. It helped get the blood circulating and speeded up the healing process. Rehabilitation started in earnest a few days after my final operation.
Once again: head and body, one unit
At Motol I worked with an excellent team of very professional physiotherapists. And above all they were very positive. It is wonderful how in a psychologically demanding environment such as a hospital they are able maintain a very good mood. For recovery this is as important as the exercises themselves. Several times during my stay in hospital I heard that the speed with which a person recovers depends most of all on their state of mind. I would like to give special thanks to Lenka Vincíková, who took care of me at Motol, and I exercised with her even after leaving hospital for the first month.
Training! But in the bed
After returning from hospital I continued exercising at home. At the recommendation of doctors I arranged an exercise bike on which I could pedal whilst lying down and could therefore move a bit. For almost four months I was unable to sit up, and thus my friends and family drove me to physiotherapy and hospital check-ups with me lying down in the back. As the weeks passed my training became more and more active. It was up to me how I approached it. I am fortunate that I am a professional athlete. I have discipline and I love exercise. It was not a problem for me to do sufficient rehabilitation exercise – I actually had to hold myself back so I didn’t over-exercise. It was a challenge for me to stick to the rehabilitation exercises and not slip into performance training. That would have been counterproductive at that stage.
Bike, roads, exhilaration
In June I sat on a bike again for the first time. It was a wonderful feeling. However, I had to take care not to overdo it. I continued to spend more time on compensation training than on my bike. I tried to stick to this and if I slipped up with my training I received feedback – my back hurt. I learnt to be fully aware of my body, and it was an excellent training of discipline. The ratio shifted gradually, and from September I was in my full training regime. However, I still devote around 45 minutes a day to rehabilitation, and twice a week I work with a physiotherapist.
Last week in brief
I devoted most of last week to training and I had a minimum of other responsibilities. I continued with a combination of gym work and endurance training. The weather has cooled and it has started to snow. I took advantage of this by going out on my skis twice. I went along snow covered roads and blue ski runs up and down. It is not like the wavy tracks in the Czech mountains, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Despite having more time to relax I paradoxically feel more tired. However, this is not surprising. Last week I over did it a bit, and this week the tiredness is showing through. On Thursday I cut my training short by an hour. The weather was wonderful so it was not an easy decision. I was tempted to continue, but I knew that it is not worth going beyond certain boundaries. A person must know when to push hard, but also when it is better to listen to the body and ease off a bit.
The following days I already felt noticeably better. On Saturday it was due to be warmer so I set off for some road training. I met with a great group of 18 cyclists. For the first hour, however, the temperature hovered just above zero. We were all frozen, but then we gradually increased the tempo until we suddenly found ourselves racing. Then in a moment it calmed down. As we continued the large group split into several small groups.
Before we split up we stopped for a coffee. It was surprisingly fast – 18 espressos arrived on the table within five minutes. Not all the riders were espresso drinkers, but to save time it was simpler to order the same for everyone.
I will remain in Andorra and will continue to train in a similar way. It should warm up a bit, so I will be cycling more than skiing. Julian Alaphilippe is due to arrive, so I am looking forward to train with him.