The crash that ended New Zealander Sam Bewley's 2020 season suddenly after a crash during Stage 10 of the Tour de France is still delaying the start of 2021 for the 33-year-old. Bewley spoke to SBS Cycling Central about his recovery, 2021 plans and his journey with Team BikeExchange as he enters his tenth season with the squad.
"It’s getting there, slowly, it’s been a long injury," said Bewley. "When I crashed at the Tour de France the prognosis was pretty simple, there was a real possibility that I’d be back racing at the Tour of Spain or other races. But as things went on we found that it was either getting worse or worse than what we thought initially."
The crash was in early September and with a fractured wrist not an uncommon injury in cycling, it was thought that the rehabilitation process would be relatively straightforward. However, it has been a series of setbacks for the tall Kiwi and will delay his return to riding on the road until mid-February.
"It was just a couple of basic fractures, it didn’t require any surgery at the time," said Bewley. "My surgeon told me the other day that dealing with professional athletes is like dealing with children, we’re hard to keep down at times. I was back training on the road three or four weeks after the crash and things were feeling okay at that point.
"Basically, in the end, it didn’t heal the way it should have and they had to break the wrist again and reconstruct it to how it should be. What was a four or five-week injury turned into a four or five-month injury but maybe what happens when you get older, I don’t know."
The main issue is less the actual time that Bewley will return to riding and more all the training that he's not been able to do until this point, losing those base kilometres on top of which professional riders build to peaks of form. Bewley has been trying to maintain those levels with cross-training, long runs and hikes to keep his level as high as possible.
“In a weird way, I’m enjoying doing it, it’s completely different to what I’ve done before," said Bewley. "It’s frustrating, not being out with the guys doing long rides at the moment. Hopefully, I can get to a level of fitness that will allow me to be able to train pretty well when I’m out on the road."
The Greenedge stalwart has been with the Australian squad since their first season in the WorldTour, and was asked whether he could see himself on another team in the future.
"Nah," said Bewley. "I’m getting older at the same rate as everyone else, every year you get a year older. I’ve been here since the start and I do love it here. I don’t know when my career will end, hopefully not too soon, but at the moment, I see my career ending with this team."
The career of Bewley and the trajectory of the Team BikeExchange setup have mirrored each other somewhat, with the big New Zealander finding his niche within the squad as it morphed into a Grand Tour team that targetted the general classification.
“I guess when I came into the team I was much like the team, I was still finding my footing," said Bewley. "I’d basically just been riding the track. I’d had a few years with Team Radioshack, but I hadn’t clicked with that team and the rider I was and I was largely focused on the team’s pursuit on the track.
"I ended the track as I came into this team and it took me a couple of years to find what my role as a bike rider was and I think I’ve found that now as a domestique in the Grand Tours for the GC riders. As I’ve grown older, you gain more experience naturally and I’ve found that I slipped naturally into a role of trying to help the younger guys, sharing advice and creating relationships with those guys.
"That’s part of the job that I really enjoy, I guess mentoring in a sense the younger guys through the early part of their career before they take off and leave me behind on all the climbs."
Part of that mentoring includes instilling an understanding of the team spirit that is core to the identity of the squad, now with less Australian members that the early days, but still with the same Aussie (and New Zealander) ethos.
"We set a standard with the team culture from the start," said Bewley. "Gerry (Ryan, team owner) was very clear about how he wanted he wanted his cycling team to be and how to operate. We’ve not got so many riders that have been here from the start but a lot of staff that have been here from the start.
"We try to implant that culture to everyone that joins the team and continue with the good environment from the start."
Team BikeExchange director Matt White spoke of the importance of Bewley to the Australian squad and his place within the group.
“He’s a great teammate and one of the leaders in our team,” said White. “It’s going to be a hard road back for him to return to his highest level. He’s a great guy to have back on the team, one of the team captains and the leaders of the organisation. Let’s hope that the next few months goes well and he can get back as we need him on the bike as well."