UPDATE 6/30: after this original post, Jacob made it big and is now published on Cyclingnews! Be sure to follow the rest of his stories there, thanks for reading!
Words by Jacob Rathe, the first of a three-part post of stories about his experience racing at the WorldTour level on Garmin-Sharp in 2012/13, and domestically for Jelly Belly Pro Cycling for 2014/15. After years of pain and misdiagnosis, Jacob recently discovered the root of his problem and setback in his career. Jacob is a talented rider with a lot of potential at the youthful age of 24. He's also a good friend of mine who's been the instigator and accomplice in some former projects. He will undergo surgery today for a remarkably common (in cycling) condition called Iliac Artery Endofibrosis. While he could have opted for an in-network doctor who has never performed this specialized surgery before and had more of the expense covered by insurance, he wisely decided to minimize the risk and go with a specialist who's had success with the same procedure on dozens of other cyclists. Jacob anticipates making a strong recovery and being able to come back early next season with full power in his left leg. You can read more about it in this Cycling News article. You can support his fundraiser by purchasing a shirt he designed himself: booster.com/jacobrathe
I found myself in a glorious, yet potentially embarrassing, situation all of the sudden. I was in the Tour of Flanders and I made the breakaway. It’s a great place to be, a real opportunity to perform on one of the most spectacular and prestigious arenas in cycling.
For 80 kilometers the race was on full gas, the breakaway refusing to go. I magically slipped into the right group that got just enough of a gap. We rotated ruthlessly, desperate riders trying to bridge across from behind as we tried to open the gap to an insurmountable margin.
We escaped, and I was wishing we didn't. I had to skip pulls, sitting at the back with my left leg in a cramping mess, barely able to stay with this goldmine of a group. I panicked for a few minutes, fighting every second to stay on the wheel. Getting dropped out of this group would be like a runner tripping on their shoelaces.
500,000 + spectators were watching on course and a few million more on TV. There are few worse place to fall on your face.
I didn’t get dropped, but it was one of the first of many times an episode like this would happen. I could ride hard for a few minutes, just long enough to establish an attack, only to be left grimacing and weak a few minutes later. My career as a pack filler, 7th place sprinter began.
The months leading up to this were a disaster. I crashed my second race day in a time trial, damaging my left quad badly. The day after that I caught the flu. Two weeks after that I broke my hand the first day of Paris-Nice. Being a young and motivated 22 year-old, I trained with a broken hand like an idiot.
All of those injuries added to the confusion of cramping pain in my left leg, that was when this all started. In the two years following I slowly went insane treating it with no lasting results. Starting with basic physical therapy, progressing to advanced PT, eventually buying textbooks and learning the ins and outs of compensation, stability, and our extensive network of facia.
I spent most of my time on the floor doing all sorts of things, glute bridges, single leg dead lifts, lateral strength, rotational stability exercises. This thing can be managed, sort of, to the point where it would only hurt if I actively participated in the race. No therapy and I was a mess just being pack fill.
I tried PT, then I tried it again from a different angle. I told myself that if I wasn’t fixed in 2015 I would quit. Easy.
I’ve been entrenched in cycling all my life, never even thinking about an alternative. In this downward spiral I thought a lot about what I would do and that process being a great motivation for my cycling career. Listing the alternatives made me appreciate this sport more.
I have a get out of jail free card, a perfectly good reason to quit. But for now I won’t. Even after pedaling through sand for years I still want to line up for a bike race.
This is the first of a three-part series of bike racing stories by Jacob. Stay tuned, thanks for stopping by TWB.