A crash while mountain biking in December led to Simon Gerrans' longest time away from the bike, but he's back and ready to race Saturday

After his longest break from racing since turning pro 11 years ago, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) returns to competition this weekend at Strade Bianche.

The veteran Australian crashed three months ago, leaving him with a broken clavicle, and with a snap of the bone, he was forced to forfeit a chance to defend his title at the Santos Tour Down Under in January.

Coming off an intense training camp in South Africa, Gerrans vows to make up for lost time.

“I’m always excited to get racing underway, but this year more so than ever,” Gerrans wrote on his personal website. “Now that I’ve gone such a long period without racing, I’m really looking forward to getting back into it again and getting the season started.”

Gerrans, 34, hasn’t raced since coming oh-so-close to the rainbow jersey with second behind Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) at the world championships last September in Spain.

A mountain biking crash derailed his plans to open the 2015 season at the Tour Down Under and vie for the Australian national championship. Now back to full health, Gerrans was training with teammate Daryl Impey in South Africa, including rides across Kruger National Park.

After Strade Bianche this weekend and GP Nobili, also in Italy, on March 19, Gerrans will race the Volta a Catalunya before heading into the Ardennes, for Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Missing from his tentative schedule is Milano-Sanremo, the race he won in dramatic fashion in 2012. He’s also swapped Paris-Nice for Catalunya, with hopes of avoiding illness or a physical setback in the French race that’s often held under nasty weather conditions.

The ideal is to be firing on all cylinders in time for his Liège defense in late April.

“For my first few races, I may be at a bit of a disadvantage due to a lack of race fitness. I will be lining up against guys that have done a few races already this year, and they’ll obviously have more top-end fitness than myself,” Gerrans said. “The plan last year was to race only half of Paris-Nice to get some racing in the legs, and head home before I got sick. But even after going home midway through the race, I still came down ill off the back of it. The program change was made even before I was injured in December.”

Gerrans’ late start could be a blessing in disguise. While he admits he will be short of top-end form coming into the early season races, he’s hoping he will be fresher and even stronger for the Tour de France, where’s he hopes to add to stage wins from 2008 and 2013, and the world championships, held on a course that suits him in Richmond, Virginia, in September.

“I think the late start will work in my favor,” he said. “It should enable me to be a lot fresher for my goals to come, particularly in the later parts of the season.”

For Strade Bianche, Orica-GreenEdge will be racing across the white roads of Tuscany for the first time in team history.

“We are certainly not favorites. We haven’t got any race experience here, so we are going in for a bit of a hit out, but the best way to go for a hit out is to have a go to try to get a result,” said sport director Neil Stephens in a team release. “To a degree, we are coming in from the shadows.”

Joining Gerrans in his 2015 season debut will be Esteban Chaves, Magnus Cort, Luke Durbridge, Matthew Hayman, Michael Hepburn, Svein Tuft, and Adam Yates.