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Sutherland back in saddle in first race in Israel jersey

Aussie veteran recovered from freak crash in December to race Milano-Sanremo for first time in career.

Aussie veteran Rory Sutherland was back in the saddle Saturday at Milano-Sanremo in his first race of 2020.

The Israel Start-Up Nation captain pinned on a number for the first time since Paris-Tours in 2019, some eight months after a near career-ending mishap in December involving a spill while riding a motorized scooter.

“I’m like a neo-pro, feels like I haven’t raced in years,” Sutherland said before the Italian classic. “It’s been such a roller coaster these last months.”

Sutherland, 38, started his first race Saturday in the Israel Start-Up Nation jersey with the longest race of the season at Milano-Sanremo. The Australian has been on the slow but steady mend following a freak spill while riding a scooter on the streets of Tel-Aviv in December. The fall left him with a broken femur, and cast doubts about his ability to race professionally again.

Through dogged determination, world-class health care and support, and the weird luck of the coronavirus shutdown giving him even more time to recover without stress, Sutherland returns to racing in Italy.

“Being on the start line is a victory in itself, because when I broke my leg I didn’t think I would ever race again,” Sutherland said. “Let alone, Milano-Sanremo as the first race.”

Based in Spain, Sutherland has not yet defined the remainder of his racing season, but he expressed gratitude for the support he’s seen from team staffers, his medical team, and family and friends.

Sutherland, who made headlines in 2018 as being a Tour de France rookie at 36, starts Milano-Sanremo for the first time of his career. Had the WorldTour calendar remained unchanged, Sutherland would have not been ready to race the Italian classic on its original dates in March.

“There were moments when I was unsure of whether I could ever return to my former level,” Sutherland said in June. “Recovering from this injury is the hardest thing I have had to do in my sporting career.”

Sutherland is on a one-year contract with the Israeli-backed team, and the arrival of Chris Froome for 2021 has him considering extending this racing career perhaps even longer.