VN: You suffered a concussion. Describe how that was.
TF: I have not dealt with anything like that and it was not fun. I have broken plenty of bones over the years. If I had to choose, I would break a bone again rather than deal with that. I was in a bad place for a few weeks. It took over a month before I was myself again and back to normal.
VN: What kinds of things did you experience?
TF: You are just out of it. After a real concussion, you have to take care of it and give your brain time to recover. That involves complete rest. You just feel like your brain is slow. It felt like everything was moving through molasses. It took a while to feel back to myself in day-to-day conversation. It’s really scary. I’ve heard about it; until you’ve had one, you don’t know what that means. “OK, whacked his head, he has some headaches.” I’ve never had anything like this.
VN: So you got the green light to return in October?
TF: The team has a very strict protocol in place if anyone sustains head trauma. We went through it step-by-step. The immediate step is to take scans to make sure you do not have bleeding on the brain, anything that can kill you. Then it’s total rest, and there’s a gradual process to increasing your activity. It worked, but it wasn’t a fun process. I felt like they took good care of me. By mid- to late October, I was back to normal, to train again.
VN: You have suffered a lot of crashes in your career. Do you get to a point when it’s too much?
TF: It’s part of the sport. You try not to think about crashing. You know it’s a possibility. As soon as you start thinking about crashing, you become hesitant. You start to hit the brakes, and that almost causes more crashes. Because that hesitation puts you in a bad situation when you crash.
VN: Do the crashes knock back your confidence?
TF: Last year was a bad year. I was performing at my best, that’s for sure. I am confident in the training I’ve done the past few months. I am looking forward to doing some sprints and testing where I am. I am happy with how my winter went, training-wise, a good place to test to see where I am at in climbing, in racing, in sprinting. And then you can address whatever weaknesses you have.
VN: You’ve suffered your fair share of setbacks over the past few years, with the injury of your father, the death of Wouter Weylandt, crashes; how has that impacted your racing?
TF: That’s life. You cannot control it. Most of those things were completely out of my control. What can you do except roll with the punches and keep moving when it’s a bad situation and try to make the best of it? There’s nothing else you can do except curl up in a ball and die. All those things shape you as a person. That’s part of life. No one has everything go perfect all the time. Being a professional cyclist, so I am in the spotlight, so these things that have happened, everyone knows about it. If you take 50 random people off the street, they’ve all had horrible things happen to loved ones. That’s just life.
VN: After some of the hardships you’ve endured, does it make you look at things in a different way?
TF: Having a year like that makes you really appreciate the good years. Having a year when you feel like everything was going wrong makes you realize how awesome it is when everything is going right. Most athletes have peaks and valleys throughout their career. I am chalking 2012 up as a valley.
VN: What would be an ideal season for you in 2013?
TF: The thing I’ve had in my mind since I started training again is just getting back to my best. Getting back to how I was riding in 2009, 2010, 2011. I know I am still capable of that. It’s one bad season and put that behind me. I want to have a good year and win races again.
VN: Who is going to be there to help you in the sprints?
TF: The first order of business is showing that I am sprinting at the top level, then we’ll worry about the train. First I need to show that I am at my best. I am not stressing about the leadout train right now. Doesn’t matter how good your train is, if you do not have the legs to finish it off. I have to show that I have those legs.