Bernhard Eisel says a head injury that derailed his 2018 season and could have made the affable Austrian mute is in the past, as he looks toward the spring classics with renewed motivation.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
27 Feb 2019 - 10:03 AM 

Eisel is currently racing at the UAE Tour, where he was able to joke about the injury that was no laughing matter when the Dimension Data road captain found himself on an emergency operating table last April. There, surgeons drilled a hole in his head to relieve pressure on his brain caused by a subdural haematoma. Less than 12 months later, he’s talking about a protected role at Paris-Roubaix.

The injury stemmed from a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, where Eisel fractured his wrist but went undetected until he later returned to training and suffered headaches. Dimension Data management said a team doctor that was alerted to the complaint essentially saved Eisel’s life.

“At the end of August, I went to the clinic, got everything tested again and they cleared me from everything. That was the turning point, I never thought about it again. I’ve trained probably the best in years this winter,” Eisel said.

“When we did the testing, it was like my brain seems to be like pretty much like before. I can’t say if that’s good,” he laughs, “it didn’t make it better, but also not worse!”

The peloton patron was sidelined for about four months last season, missing a career 13th Tour de France participation that he instead attended as a television guest.

“It’s not like in boxing or football when you get 20 hits on your head and you end up with Parkinson’s or something. That was what I was mostly scared of,” he said.

“But when people looked at the picture, doctors actually stopped talking. Then the next question was, ‘Can he talk?’ They weren’t even asking if he is riding his bike or walking, it was can he talk. I should have had numbness in my hands, and one side should have been pretty much no movement at all anymore because there was too much pressure on the area.”

Eisel made a modest comeback from injury at Ride London in July but it wasn’t until that follow-up appointment in August that he really returned.

“That day I could go back into the racing scene again, concentrate on the racing and not having something in the back of my mind all the time; braking before the other guys start braking, being in the lead-out and going the safety way,” he said.

Eisel has extended his contract with Dimension Data, which is determined to improve on a dismal 2018 campaign as a new bike sponsor and rider signings, including a bevy of proven classics specialists, suggests.

“This winter we had a lot of meetings, what we can change and what we have to do. I said I just want to be in bike races again. That’s what I was missing, going out there to really win a bike race and enjoy that. Not just going from one place to another one and hit by hit. That’s frustrating,” said Eisel.

“We have a good squad for all the classics. Roubaix, if the form stays like this, I’ll probably have a chance myself depending also a little bit on how the guys are going.” 

A start at the Tour of California and then the Tour de France is also on the schedule, though Eisel refers back to self-deprecating humour when talking about the latter.

“At my age, I’ve done 12 Tours. If I’m not going any more, I’m not going. I’ll only go if I know I’m capable of helping, know what I’m doing and 100 per cent in form,” he said.