As this hits your inbox, Toms Skujins will be minutes away from his return to racing in the time trial at the Latvian National Road Championships. The 26-year-old was involved in a high profile crash at Amgen Tour of California last month that left him with a broken collarbone and a concussion. He missed out on the final stages of California and sat out Tour de Suisse as he recovered in his US base of Boulder, Colorado. And now he’s back and as hungry and motivated as ever.
Skujins says that he isn’t as prepared or as focused on nationals as he has been in the past. He has eyes on a steady string of results at Tour of Poland, a month out yet, so he’s building through nationals, patiently progressing towards a target that offers WorldTour points and WorldTour glory.
We spoke with Skujins as he prepared to pin on a number for the first time in five weeks.
Q: How did the crash at California compare to previous crashes in your career?
It’s definitely the biggest crash I’ve had. It was my first broken collarbone and my first concussion. It was also the most visible crash I’ve ever had.
Q: What did the first week post-crash involve?
I was still with the team for half of the first week because I couldn’t fly anywhere because of the concussion.
I had surgery two days post-crash in California. One of the race doctors came in the day after the crash. He was working in a clinic near our hotel and was able to do the surgery. He did an amazing job.
The night after the surgery was really painful. Other than that, it was improvements every day – especially the head.
It got better quickly after the first week. At the tail-end of the second week, I was able to ride again. I did a cognitive test and was given the clearance to ride the trainer.
Q: What did that cognitive test entail?
It’s a series of exercises done online. It probably takes around 30-40 minutes. It’s several tests that focus on memory, concentration, the ability to complete tasks – like pressing a key when the light is green or when the letters are a certain color. It’s six or eight tests that you do in those 30-40 minutes, and it generates a score that you can compare to a baseline you’ve already established. I did them last year when not concussed, without any head trauma, so that if I ended up in this exact situation, I’d have my own individual baseline that I’d need to return to before I can ride.
Q: When were you able to transition from the trainer to the road?
I can’t remember exact days. I think I did four rides on the trainer. That was all it took for me to get comfortable enough to get back on the road.
Q: Are you having any lingering impact from the crash?
There’s definitely less muscle around my shoulder. That’s what I need to start working on now. It’s been four weeks, and I’ve done another x-ray to confirm it’s healed. I pretty much have all the mobility back, maybe I’m missing 5-10%. I’m sure I’ll get that back within another month or so.
Q: How’s the form?
I’ve been riding some longer, steadier rides. I was at altitude in Boulder, and my big focus is Tour of Poland more than Nationals. I want to be ready for that, for the second phase of the year. Knowing that, I didn’t do a lot of intensity. The body feels good, and it’s race ready but it’s not RACE race ready if you know what I mean.
Q: Do you have ambitions for Nationals?
Nationals are always tricky. It’s not an ordinary race, especially in a small field like we usually have. That means it’s not always about the legs. I’m going to try to work more on mental and tactical skills and see where that takes me. It definitely won’t be easy.
After Nationals, I go back to altitude so I can train hard again and get ready for Poland. Poland is the next big one with the team. I’m excited about it, but I’m trying not to get over-excited because it’s still a month away.