By VeloNews Interactive — Copyright AFP2001
French cycling star Laurent Jalabert has started walking, just two short days after breaking three vertebrae in a freak accident, his team boss said Wednesday.
While changing a light bulb, Jalabert fell six feet from a ladder at his home near Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, fracturing three vertebrae and putting the 32-year-old’s immediate career plans on hold.
Hospital officials in Geneva have declined to comment on Jalabert’s condition, but the CSC-World Online team manager Bjarne Riis said Jalabert’s injuries are a cause of great concern.
“Something serious has happened to him,” Riis told the French wire service AFP from his home Copenhagen, Denmark.
“He is keeping his spirits up because the doctors have said that an operation is not necessary and he began to walk again on Wednesday,” Riis said. “I hope he can recover quickly. It’s a real blow for him — and for us.”
“I’m optimistic. There are always risks in the world of sport, but I’m confident he will be on the starting line at the Tour de France,” Riis added.
Riis said that he remains confident Jalabert’s injury will not have a bearing on whether the team is chosen by Tour de France organizers to participate in this year’s race.
“We have a good team and I think we would be able to compete well,” he said.
The injury to Jalabert, cycling’s world number one for the five years between 1995 and 2000, has ended the French rider’s plans to compete in the Spring classics and given his CSC-World Online teammates reason to worry.
“It’s a catastrophe. He is truly important for the morale of the team and he is the heart of the team because of his charisma and because of the experience and knowledge he brings to us,” said Jalabert’s teammate Rolf Sorensen.
Sorensen said that he nonetheless expected Tour organizers would grant CSC a place in this year’s race because of Jalabert’s renowned powers of recovery.
“I think the organizers know the Jalabert’s qualities and they will expect him to be 100-percent fit for the race,” he said.
CSC-World Online competed in the 2000 Tour under the banner of Memory Card-Jack & Jones. The team then went on a recruiting drive, bringing Jalabert on board in hopes of building up its roster for the 2001 race. Soon after signing Jalabert, however, the team’s main sponsor, Memory Card, scaled back its involvement after suffering financial problems. The resulting shortfall left Riis scrambling to keep the team together in hopes of securing another sponsor.
Though successful in that effort, the team was not among the group of 16 teams offered automatic spots for the 2001 Tour. This year, Tour organizers opened the door to three Division II teams from France — AG2R, Bonjour and Jean Delatour — leaving Division I teams like CSC and the U.S.’s Mercury-Viatel vying for four remaining wildcard spots.