Ben Jacques-Maynes was a mess. It was two days after his stage 2 crash at the Tour of California in May, and the veteran rider, recovering in a hospital a with litany of injuries, had one thing in mind.
“I was saying, ‘I don’t want to go out like this,’” Jacques-Maynes recalled Tuesday at the Tour of Utah. “I was laid up in bed in pain and thinking about how I was going to pay for new teeth. But there was such a huge outpouring of support and general well wishes. It definitely helped me get back.”
About two months later, the 36-year-old rider, competing in his 14th and final pro season, was back. He’s still missing front teeth, and his body is far from healed. But after placing fourth overall in the five-day Cascade Cycling Classic that ended July 26, Jacques-Maynes is racing in Utah in an unfamiliar personal space.
“I am going to have a totally different take on this race,” said the Jamis-Hagens Berman rider. “It’s survival here to actually feel better in Colorado [USA Pro Challenge]. It’s my goal. You might see me here in the gruppetto a couple of times, but I am on the upswing.”
Jacques-Maynes’ crash in May occurred after the often-unheralded cyclist received a rare moment in the spotlight. He was the only rider in the Tour of California to compete in all 10 editions and he was presented with a one-off anniversary bike as the preamble to a celebration of longevity that never occurred.
“It’s been an interesting return to racing,” said Jacques-Maynes, who was among a five-rider break early in stage 2 from Tremonton to Ogden. “I am definitely putting myself back together still. I am good enough to be here and participate with my team, but certainly I’m not on the level as I’ve been in the past.”
Jacques-Maynes finished 43rd in the main field in the stage 2 and is ninth overall, trailing race leader Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) by 13 seconds.
In the Cascade Cycling Classic, Jacques-Maynes was also in an early race breakaway that stayed away. He described his fourth overall place as “lucky.”
“My power was down; I definitely felt I was struggling just to be in there,” he said. “I was fortunate to make a big breakaway that lasted. I had a couple of good times, but there’s a lot of work to do to get back to my usual self.”
Jacques-Maynes’ crash in California was four years after another crash in the same event nearly ended his career. In the long fifth stage from Seaside to Paso Robles, the Central California rider suffered a fractured collarbone. A premature recovery led to a staph infection that required a second surgery. He took several months to recover in what he described as a “life-altering medical intervention.”
“It’s mental; Your body can go through so many different issues,” said Sebastian Alexander, the Jamis-Hagens Berman team director, of his team captain’s current return. “But it’s mental that you have to be ready to go again. Physically, we heal and we are good again.
“Mentally, it’s very difficult when you crash or have a teammate who crashes. It affects your mind. It’s about fear. It’s a human thing. There’s nothing bad with that. People handle it in different ways.”
Juan Jose Haedo, the now-retired Argentinean sprinter who works with Jamis-Hagens Berman and whose younger brother rides for the team, concurred.
“I think it’s more mental,” Haedo said. “He [Jacques-Maynes] is 36, I think. Your body can go as long as your head goes. If you have the strength to come back and not be afraid of any situation then for sure you can come back. He’s young enough to be strong enough.”
Jacques-Maynes, who plans to retire after his team participates in the team time trial at the UCI World Road Championships next month in Richmond, Virginia, claimed the KOM competition last year at the USA Pro Challenge. It would be a lofty expectation to repeat the title.
“The body is putting itself back together from the trauma,” he said. “Your body is healing so there’s a lot involved in that. You’re always tired, and it’s also the secondary things.
“I found out just last week I probably broke my back in the crash. It’s an ongoing process. You just take lumps as they come. It was a major crash, and there are ramifications. But you just try not to get caught up in the negativity of it.”
Even if Jacques-Maynes plans to wind down his competitive career, pro cycling’s effects will linger. He faces further extensive dental surgery late this year and in early 2016.
“I am hoping it goes smoothly,” he said. “I do have some trepidation of drawn-out medical care, and that’s the biggest mental hurdle I need to get over. Fortunately, I won’t have to be bike riding at the time.
“I will be long done with cycling long before I will recover from the accident. I won’t have to like jump back on the bike and get back right away to training. I will be going to work or being a stay-at-home dad.”