If you were ever going to pick a year where you were going to have an injury which would keep you out for an indefinite time, 2020 was probably the year to do that.
Elynor Bäckstedt was on a family bike ride with her dad and sister, not long after the first lockdown in the UK, when her season ending crash happened. In Elynor’s first year inside the Women’s World Tour Peloton, riding for Trek-Segafredo it should have been a year of learning and finding her way in the pro peloton.
Instead it was mainly recovering and getting back to some form of fitness before focusing on the 2021 season. In May 2020, on a mountain bike ride permitted by her team Trek-Segafredo, Bäckstedt fell from her bike. Managing to unclip her right leg and trying to use that to stop the fall, her foot hit the ground and with a snap Elynor suffer a spiral fracture to her right leg.
“I’ve broke my right leg before and I knew as soon as it happened that I had broke my leg. The ground was dry and I was only doing about 10kph, something like that, it wasn’t even much of a downhill, but these things happen.” Says Elynor, but as if a spiral fracture in your lower leg isn’t enough this happened deep in the Welsh mountainsides, meaning mountain rescue didn’t get to Bäckstedt for 2-3 hours.
Her dad, Magnus Bäckstedt, himself a Tour de France Stage winner and winner of the 2004 Paris-Roubaix, had to hold his daughters leg while waiting for the rescue crew, as any movement caused huge amounts of pain. “My sister was on the phone to the ambulance and my dad was doing his best trying to keep my leg supported. Any movement was just agony, even is it moved by a millimetre.”
Elynor spent the next two months in a cast which came all the way up to her quadriceps before a less restrictive cast coming up to just below her knee was applied for 6 weeks, after that having to spend a further six weeks in a velcro boot. Bäckstedt spent from May until September in some form of cast.
“Training just couldn’t happen, I was in a wheelchair for the first month and still in an awful lot of pain. if there was the slightest bump on the pavement, it was just too much, the pain was unbearable. There was no way I could even think of training. After that it was a lot of non-weight bearing stuff, walking with crutches. I spent so much time in a cast I almost had to learn to walk again after, such was the severity of the break.”
But how does a bike rider, who depends on the strength in their legs come back from that and how do you recover?
“I had tot ry and treat it like an off-season, which was frustrating because I’d just had my off-season. I made the most of things by hanging out with my friends who I had not seen in a long time, but mainly it was recovering and doing all I could to try and stay fit and healthy.”
However, Bäckstedt knows it could have been so different for her and is so different for many of the riders in the Women’s World Tour who just are not able to get the help from their teams.
“I feel so sorry for riders who have to go through this sort of thing on their own. I feel very lucky to have the team around me which I have at Trek-Segafredo. We have team doctors, the Director Sportifs come to see me and see how I’m getting on. There doesn’t feel as if there is pressure to get back to racing, just recovering and they fully support me.”
Bäckstedt is right, there is little support in the Women’s World Tour and a report released by the Cycling Alliance shows the discrepancy in the pay structure in the Women’s World Tour and how many athletes have to support their racing career by also working full time.
Thankfully for Elynor, training has now been upped, able to handle up to 2 hours riding on the turbo and out on the roads, Bäckstedt looks to make a return to racing in 2021. “It’s about building up my fitness and endurance now, making sure I’m strong enough to be riding in the peloton. I hope to be back racing again as soon as possible.