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Armstrong to have surgery Wednesday, still hopes to do the Giro

Lance Armstrong will undergo surgery Wednesday to stabilize the collarbone fracture he suffered Monday in a crash during the first stage of Spain’s Vuelta a Castilla y León. Upon returning to the United States Tuesday, Armstrong sought the advice of orthopedic surgeon Douglas Elenz who outlined the risks and benefits of inserting a plate to stabilize his mid-shaft clavicle fracture. X-rays taken in Austin showed that Armstrong’s right clavicle was more seriously damaged than indicated by films taken in a Spanish hospital.

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By Neal Rogers

Lance Armstrong will undergo surgery Wednesday to stabilize the collarbone fracture he suffered Monday in a crash during the first stage of Spain’s Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Upon returning to the United States Tuesday, Armstrong sought the advice of orthopedic surgeon Douglas Elenz who outlined the risks and benefits of inserting a plate to stabilize his mid-shaft clavicle fracture.

X-rays taken in Austin showed that Armstrong’s right clavicle was more seriously damaged than indicated by films taken in a Spanish hospital.

Armstrong later spoke of the prognosis during a brief teleconference call with reporters Tuesday evening from his hometown of Austin, Texas.

That call opened with his manager Mark Higgins telling reporters that Armstrong’s fracture was “angulated and displaced” and “a little more serious than we originally thought from the films that came over from Spain.”

“I would say multiple pieces,” Armstrong later clarified when asked if there were multiple fractures to his clavicle.

After consulting Elenz at the Austin Sports Medicine clinic, Armstrong opted to have to have the surgery to stabilize the fragmented clavicle and to speed recovery. Elenz instructed Armstrong to “do absolutely nothing” for 72 hours before returning for a follow-up visit.

Surgical repair of such breaks is common and riders who have opted for the procedure have recovered quickly. Perhaps the most notable was six-time world pursuit champion Rebecca Twigg, who broke her right clavicle less than two weeks before the 1995 world championships. She chose to have the break repaired with a titanium plate and set a new world record in the pursuit 11 days after surgery. Road racers, who encounter variable terrain and road surfaces for much greater distances, generally face a longer recovery.

Armstrong said that while he doesn’t fear for his chances of starting the Tour de France in July, he still hopes to take the Giro start in Venice on May 9.

Should his doctor determine that the plate was properly fitted, Armstrong said he might be able to ride a stationary trainer “three to four days” after the operation.

“Honestly, it seems to me if the surgery goes well and everything comes together and the plate fits nicely, I don’t think it complicates things in the future more than the initial opinion did,” he said.

Asked about how the injury will affect his comeback — and goal to race for a podium finish at the Giro — Armstrong said he hoped to be back on a bike within four weeks.

“This is a very common cycling injury and you hear of guys able to race in two weeks and other guys that race two months later,” he said. “Four to six weeks seems long to me but again, time will tell. Obviously the Giro is on people’s minds and that’s about five weeks away. In my opinion I think the Giro is still very doable.”

Still, the Texan called the injury “the biggest setback I’ve had in my cycling career.”

“Fortunately I’ve done a lot of off-season work that I think will help me through this,” he said. “I think my condition was really coming to a place where I was going to be able to ride at the front of the races and that’s good news and bad news — bad news that I wasn’t able to show it in the races, but the good news is that if you get injured with good form you can come back with decent form. You aren’t starting from rock bottom.”

Armstrong admitted that in the moments following his crash, he questioned both the wisdom of his return to the sport and the likelihood that he would be able to reach his goals.

“I knew it hurt like hell and whenever you have a big pain like that your mind tells you to feel it to make sure nothing is sticking out, but at the same time you’re a little scared to feel it,” he said. “So I took a quick brush with my hand over my collarbone and what I thought were cables from my radio in fact weren’t. So I realized then it was broken pretty good.

“Lying in the ditch in that situation, you’re asking yourself, what the hell am I doing here?” he said. “But I think that’s a normal reaction and I don’t feel that way today necessarily, although I’m feeling a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was definitely a shock. I’ve raced bikes for a long, long time and never had anything like that. Quite honestly, it’s part of racing and to go as long as I’ve gone without having something happening like this is basically a miracle.”