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In his first season as a professional, Fisher-Black broke his femur in a fall on the last stage of the Boucles de la Mayenne, and he hasn’t raced since.
The New Zealander is almost ready to make his comeback, with the Tour Down Under on January 17 his return to the peloton. It will be almost eight months to the day since that crash in France when he lines up at the Australian race.
“I want to prove myself a bit more. I felt really promising as a U23 and then this year, I felt like I was on track too up, but then I had such a big setback that I’ve kind of fallen back a bit,” Fisher-Black told VeloNews in mid-December. “Hopefully I can just pick up where I left off and make 2023 one to remember. The lost time has made me more hungry now. And there’s really a fire to go and get it.”
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Prior to his crash, Fisher-Black had been impressing with his early season results in 2022, finishing eighth in the youth classification at Paris-Nice and seventh in the same competition at the Tour de Romandie. He had also taken a fourth-place finish on the second stage of the Boucles de la Mayenne after making it into a breakaway that made it all the way to the line.
Having felt like he was on the up and up, the 21-year-old was suddenly facing an extended period on the sidelines. Not only could he not ride his bike, but it would be some time before he was able to walk without assistance.
“The start was very tough. The first eight weeks were really tough because it was not so much about cycling. It was more about just trying to be a normal person again,” he said. “It took six weeks to get off the crutches and the wheelchair. That was the hardest part because to lose cycling for a bit is okay, but to lose normal life that was the first hard step.
“Once I got back on the bike, it felt like everything was just going up and up and up. After eight weeks, I got back on the bike and, once I was on the bike, I could just start to build and build.”
A long road back
Though Fisher-Black was back on his bike after eight weeks, he still faced a big battle to get himself race-ready again. He had quickly lost a lot of power in his injured leg, and he needed to work on bringing it back in line with his other leg.
Rather than return home to New Zealand, he stayed in Europe to work with the team’s physios and doctors. It was a good move for his physical recovery but it added an extra mental challenge being so far away from home.
“I’ve been in Andorra just kind of like chipping away, just slowly building back up with the physio from the team there. It’s been tough because I started pretty much from square one. I haven’t gone home either,” Fisher-Black said. “It’s daunting at the start because when cycling is all you have and it’s gone for a bit, it’s kind of scary. But the support from people around me was just so good that I felt immediately into it and kind of felt that kind of comeback.
“Around October time, I started to feel like I could put everything through my leg and it would handle it. I’ve now been training for two months just building back up. It was from basically nothing. I had to start with an hour easy day. I remember my first ride back, I hadn’t like used my left leg for so long and I did an hour ride with my sister. I got back and I was done, I was back on the crutches and another three days because the leg just wasn’t ready for it.”
Fisher-Black’s older sister Niamh has been a big source of support for him in Europe as he went through his recovery process. Niamh is a pro with SD Worx and enjoyed her best season to date in 2022 with a series of young rider victories and a fifth-place finish overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne.
With women’s racing now increasingly broadcast live, Fisher-Black was able to watch his sister race as he recovered. Watching her notch up so many big successes proved to be another motivation for him.
“It was hard at first as she was racing the Giro, but then it was so good to wake up and just watch every stage. And when she got home, it was nice to have her back and just have some morale around,” he said.
“We’ve kind of almost competing against each other a whole life and now it’s like we’re pushing each other forward. To see her do so well, it just makes me want to go back next year and do well as well. It’s really good. It was a motivation, especially when I really needed it. It’s good to see something of an inspiration.”
After a month of rehabilitation, Fisher-Black’s return is now on the horizon. His legs are now producing almost equal power and he feels as though his form is moving in the right direction.
He has done everything he can to prepare himself the best he can for his comeback, but there are some things he can’t really prepare for.
“There are definitely some things that will maybe throw me off a bit, like being back in the bunch after so long might be hard. I just don’t know,” Fisher-Black. “Maybe I have some fear of crashing, but I think each race it will get better and I’m ready for it. I feel like when you have a crash like that, you’re almost less scared because now you know how bad it can be. If I go through that, then I’m ready for it.”