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From wheelchair to start line: Malori returns to WorldTour

In the course of one year, Movistar's Adriano Malori has gone from nearly paralyzed to racing again in the Canadian WorldTour races this September.

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Is Adriano Malori afraid? Seven months after a crash at Tour de San Luis, which almost paralyzed him, the Italian returns to the WorldTour peloton at GP de Quebec and GP de Montreal, September 9 and 11. Perhaps he is, but not for the reasons you might imagine: “I’m afraid I’ll start crying as I roll to the start and see all the riders there, the finish banner — all the atmosphere around a race, where I wanted so badly to be.”

During a season plagued by tragic crashes, such as the death of Antoine Demoitie in Gent-Wevelgem, and Stig Broeckx, who remains in a vegetative state after another motorcycle-caused crash, the Italian’s story stands out as one of hope and recovery.

Stage 5 of that Argentinian race in January might have held opportunity for Movistar’s Malori, silver medalist at world time trial championships the season prior. Instead, at 65kph, the 28-year-old hit a rough patch of road and crashed into seven months of recovery and rehabilitation, which he says changed his life for the better.

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After taking almost one month to regain consciousness at a hospital in Argentina, with a face full of titanium plates, Malori returned to Europe with his girlfriend, who’d immediately flown to his side days after the crash. But the gravity of his injury was still opaque to the three-time Italian TT champion.

“I took for granted that I would have that shoulder operated and would be back for racing in Tirreno-Adriatico,” he says. “After all, my leg was slowly getting back to move … I wasn’t thinking that anything was going wrong. Then, that doctor opened my eyes about the reality: ‘Adriano, we’re not operating you. We don’t have to. The problem with your shoulder is that your brain has been disconnected from the right-hand side of your body.’ Disconnected. I just couldn’t bear those words. I spent a whole hour crying, to exhaustion, completely hopeless.”

Malori’s rehabilitation began at Centro Neurológico de Atención Integral (CNAI), near Pamplona, Spain. For two months he spent about five hours a day doing therapy. He soon added rides on a stationary trainer to the regimen.

Photo: Movistar Team
Photo: Movistar Team

“I came into the center half-paralyzed, on a wheelchair, and I left on 28 April on my own, having even gone on bike rides few days before being released,” he says. Thinking the progress would continue, Malori returned to his hometown, near Parma, Italy. But he continued to struggle with mobility in his right side and realized about a month later that he’d have to return to CNAI to complete the rehabilitation. “The only thing I wanted was to be a professional athlete again,” he adds.

Throughout June and July he ignored the Tour de France, married his girlfriend, and working diligently at the CNAI for periods of two weeks with trips home to Italy in between. And on August 5, he left the facility for good, confident, but also with a fresh perspective.

“When you’re admitted to the CNAI and soon improve a lot, till the point that you get up from the wheelchair in just 10 days, regaining strength in all parts of your body — then, you look in the eyes of people around you, who are taking the same efforts but don’t improve, and you, who were feeling worse than them, you’re ‘overtaking’ them at full speed — they look at you with eyes that you never forget,” he recalls. “They don’t admire you because of being a Movistar Team rider, wearing that expensive watch, or having an amazing sports car. They just admire you because you’re able to move. That really changes your views on everything. That brings a tear to our eye. And you start giving things their real value.”

With a number pinned on in Quebec in early September, Malori may shed another tear. But after his 2016 ordeal, he says there are no fears or doubts: “I’m more than ready.”