It’s a new start for Rudy Molard. After suffering a heavy crash and a serious concussion on the Tour Down Under, the 34-year-old Frenchman is about to return to racing on Tuesday in the Tour de Romandie. The end of an infinite tunnel. He sat down to talk about his difficult times, to give a warning as well, but still remains optimistic regarding the future.

Rudy, three months after your crash, how do you feel, physically and mentally?

Much better than a few weeks ago. I feel like I’m finally getting back onto my feet and that I can look to the future with more optimism. Physically, I still have work to do in order to get back to my top form, that’s for sure, as I spent a month and a half doing nothing. It was necessary to come back slowly and be careful with the head, which is different from a broken bone. I had the green light, but it was sometimes flashing, so I really had to listen to myself. I think we managed it very well with the team staff and in particular with Julien [Pinot] and Jacky [Maillot]. Step by step, I was able to piece myself back together. I think I’m on the right track.

“I was in a parallel world”

Let’s come back to this accident, and the amnesia that followed. How did you experience these first hours?

When I woke up in the hospital, people were speaking English. I didn’t know where I was at all. Then I saw I had a cycling kit, so I realized I was racing, and I remembered I was in Australia. When I finally came to my senses, the first thing I thought was: “f***, I’m here”. I told myself I could have never woken up. The hardest part was realizing that it could have been worse, and that the worst could happen. It scared me. I never feared the worst could happen during my career, but there, I did. Then, I quickly wanted to understand what had happened. When you have amnesia for an hour, you want to know. It’s strange not to remember a part of your day. I thought maybe it would come back to me if I looked at the pictures, but it didn’t. Nothing happened. I didn’t recognize myself in the photos, I had the feeling that it hadn’t happened like that, even that it hadn’t happened at all. At the hospital, they told me that if I didn’t remember in the next few hours, I would never. And it never came back indeed. The crazy thing is that I was conscious on the way to the hospital, but I don’t remember anything. It’s really strange.

How were you feeling in the hospital?

I was no longer in my normal state, I was in a daze… I saw that things were going on around me, there were a lot of bustles. I felt like the world was moving very fast. The first diagnosis I remember was in late evening. They told me there was no fracture or cerebral haemorrhage, and that the crucial parts were unharmed. Other than that, I didn’t fully realize the situation I was in because I was so drugged… They gave me Fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine. I don’t even know if it’s allowed in France. I wasn’t feeling pain anywhere. I wasn’t even suffering from the fall because I didn’t remember it. I was in a parallel world. So they told me I had a big concussion. I had never suffered from it, and I thought that I’d be back on my bike the following week. For sure I had a headache, which was reduced by the painkillers, but I was in complete denial. I then remembered we attended a meeting on the matter during the training camp, and Jacky and Stéphane [Desbuisson] told me straight away to limit screen exposition and to stay in the dark as much as possible. People may not believe this, but I didn’t feel so bad in the hospital…

Have you suffered any other injuries?

I had many wounds, and a general anesthesia was necessary to clean everything. But I’m used to that, I wasn’t worried. On the other hand, I had a huge bruise on my left thigh which really bothered me for a very long time. I had trouble walking properly, or just staying on my left leg when I first stood up. At first, I was also very afraid for my face because I saw the way people were looking at me. One day, someone told me about plastic surgery. When I heard those words, I started to freak out because I hadn’t seen myself yet. It took a while for me to see a picture of myself. I was really worried because I felt like it was burning all over my face. I feared having lifelong consequences. I still have a few traces which I don’t think will go away.

“It was a mix of having a hangover and being drunk”

You stayed in Australia with the team until the end. How was the rest of the stay?

It wasn’t so bad, although I felt very tired and the daylight hurt my head, as did the screens. But I was sleepy, taking naps constantly. I had about one to two hours of “battery life”. I wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t want to think about anything. The day would pass, and it wasn’t so bad in the evening because I hadn’t done anything except rest. The others may have thought: “Rudy seems ok”. It was mere window-dressing.

When did you realize that this concussion was more serious than you thought?

When I returned to France, I understood that it was going to be long. Day by day, my condition got worse. I wasn’t seeing any improvement. With Jacky, we quickly made an appointment with a specialist in Monaco, but the most difficult thing was that no one could give me an expected immobilisation time. I had a week of slight improvement, but the next one it went backwards, and was even worse than before. It had already been four weeks since my crash. I really downplayed my injury at first, then I was in complete denial of what was happening to me. Then came the acceptance phase: I told myself that the entire start of the season was over for me. It happened step by step, and it slowly got better only when I accepted my situation and gave it time.

You said your condition got worse. Can you say more?

I was going through hell. In concrete terms, I felt like I was drunk all the time. It was a mix of having a hangover and being drunk. My head was spinning, I was suffering from dizziness, loss of balance, nausea all day long. It was driving me crazy… As soon as I’d get up and walk a bit, I’d have to hold on to the table because I struggled standing. As soon as I’d close my eyes, I’d fall. I felt best in the dark because daylight didn’t suit me. Besides, I couldn’t see anything anymore. One day, I wanted to change the size of a bracelet. I couldn’t do it. I asked my girlfriend, who did it in two seconds… I realized it was more serious than expected. I had to go to the ophthalmologist, and I’ve worn glasses since then. These small stages made me realize that it was serious. Often, I also suffered from mental blanks. During meals with friends, I was sometimes no longer there mentally. My brain was disconnecting from the present moment. I was elsewhere. The brain went into delusions, kind of hallucinations. You no longer control anything. The imagination and the subconscious are constantly active. This period lasted two or three weeks. It seemed endless.

“As long as things don’t happen to you, you can’t understand them fully”

What was your recovery like and how is a concussion cured?

The first important thing is not to keep yourself to yourself; you need to talk, discuss, and have a proper psychological follow-up. Talking about what was happening to me helped me a lot. The second thing that helped me a lot is vestibular physiotherapy. I had major problems with my inner ear following the crash. I had to do these physiotherapy sessions to treat the dizziness and my loss of balance. It was essential. Then, I just had to rest constantly. As soon as I felt a bit tired, I had to lie down and not push it. The fourth thing, finally, is patience. There’s not much you can do in terms of treatment, and that’s the most frustrating thing… Once I went out for a ride, I went downhill for fifteen minutes, and just seeing the landscapes passing by completely unsettled me. When I got to the bottom, I was elsewhere, I couldn’t really ride straight anymore. I had to stop on a small wall, rest, and I returned home. These are silly things that we don’t usually even think about. The worst were perhaps the trees’ shadows on the road. It was really disturbing for me and made me dizzy.

Do you feel that concussions are underestimated?

Definitely, mainly because it cannot be seen. When friends would come by, I would get out of bed, we’d have a drink, and we’d talk. I wasn’t feeling very well, but it didn’t show from the outside. As long as things don’t happen to you, you can’t understand them fully. We’ve been hearing about concussions for some time, but I admit I never took it seriously myself. It’s something we never talk about. Before, I thought that when someone crashed and suffered a concussion, he’d be a little woozy but that everything would get back to normal a few days later. Now that it happened to me, I really want to share my experience for the people who will unfortunately suffer from it in the future. It is a much more difficult period than we think, there are few studies and concrete things on the matter. But it is important. Actually, since I had trouble with screens, I listened to podcasts about it to find out more. It also allowed me to close my eyes and rest, which felt good. I listened to the experiences of rugby players and judokas. One of them said something that stuck with me. He fell during a fight; his wife asked him for news, and he said that he was suffering from a concussion. His wife told him, “It’s okay if it’s just a concussion.” He then said that it was actually the worst injury of his career. I didn’t feel alone.

Do you still feel any consequences today?

My sight still bothers me on a daily basis. I feel like it’s not back to normal without the glasses. When I don’t wear them, my eyes get tired quickly and it bothers me a little. It’ll take a little longer, but I think I’ll keep them for life for reading and watching TV. I also feel like I need to sleep well at night. As soon as I go over the edge, I quickly get tired the next day. Otherwise, overall, I don’t feel anything anymore.

“When someone was calling me, I was genuinely happy”

Psychologically, have you felt time was passing slowly?

For sure. Even more so since I focused my preparation on the start of the season this year. This is what was especially hard to accept; to see all the winter work go up in smoke. In Australia, I felt my legs were really good. So seeing everything suddenly stop, and not being able to do the races I had prepared was hard to swallow. And I knew I would have to start from scratch. It’s harder than a crash at the end of the season. In ten years, for example, this is the first time that I missed the Ardennes Classics. When I watched races on TV, I didn’t feel like I was where I belonged. My place with my mates on the bike, not on the sofa.

What was your relationship with the team throughout this time?

Usually, I’m not really someone who needs support, but this time, I asked for it. Jacky really took charge of me straight away; he sent me to the best specialists so that we didn’t miss anything. Then, I had a great psychological follow-up with Jean-Luc Tournier and it did me a lot of good. I was also often in touch with Julien, my coach, who checked in on me and was always there. I was able to rely on him. Then I had calls from Marc, David Le Bourdiec, some sports directors. Philippe Mauduit actually paid me a visit after a race. Most of the riders and staff members asked for news. It was a time when every support and every call felt good. Often, we want peace between the races. In this specific case, it was the opposite. When someone was calling me, I was genuinely happy.

Physically, how was the back-in-shape process?

One day, I wanted to start doing push-ups again. I made two. I couldn’t make a third one. I told myself “Well, there is work ahead.” I had no more muscle tonus at all, nothing. I told myself that I had to rebuild my condition little by little. I was inspired by many athletes who had injuries, but who made the most of their break and came back stronger after. Mentally, I thought about that a lot. It started to get better in mid-March, so after two months. Today, I think I am at 80% of my capabilities. The hardest part is behind. One week ago, I felt good legs in training for the first time. I felt that I was improving, whereas it was very hard during the first interval training. In those moments, I was thinking about what I had experienced, and I really didn’t want to give up. I managed to dig a little deeper in training. I feel like I have a lot of mental freshness to do hard efforts and I hope that will help me in the race.

“What are we waiting for? Another tragedy?”

You also spoke out after the recent crashes. Was it even more important for you to do so after your own accident?

I simply realized that when you are on the bike, you have your opponents’ lives in your hands. Many are not aware of it. As I had time, I could watch most of the races on television, and every single time, I’d see big crashes. I no longer enjoyed following the attacks and feeling the adrenaline of the final. I was just afraid the guys would crash again. Personally, I have suffered five falls over the last year and not a single one was from my own fault. Last year, it really influenced my season and prevented me from achieving good results. I started this year thinking it would be different, and “bang”. First race, first crash, out for three months. I got a bit tired of having a series of big crashes without being responsible for them. After a while, I wanted to speak up about it.

You especially talked about the responsibility of the riders themselves…

Yes, because we often blame the organizer. This year, in the Basque Country, there were a lot fewer small roads, and there were as many crashes as before, or even more. I think the organizers are trying to make an effort, and they can certainly do even better, but in my opinion the riders and their lack of vigilance are the ones at fault. That said, we can wonder why the riders take so many risks? There are a lot of explanations: the equipment is faster; with disc brakes, you want to be the one who brakes last; the radio, and the pressure that is put to ride as a team in front; the guys who talk into the radio at 50km/h with just one hand on the handlebar; the guys who turn around in the final and create waves; the guys who throw their bottles which come back on the road, like on the Amstel recently. There are plenty of dangerous behaviours that must be punished. We had to wait for the big leaders to crash for us to talk about it seriously. It’s frustrating, but if it can at least be a turning point… When the big sponsors invest millions on a guy who finds himself out for 3-4 months, it’s not good for our sport. In the history of sport, security has evolved after every tragedy. What are we waiting for? Another one? We ride at crazy speeds in thin fabric. When we crash, it’s like if you got into your car with shorts/t-shirt, drove at 60 km/h, opened the door, and jumped out. The radio is as if you were on the phone while driving, tailgating the car in front of you. When someone speaks to you on the radio at 60 km/h and you have to focus on what you’re being told and at the same time on the wheel of the rider in front of you, for hours, I think some guys can lose their lucidity.

Would you like more riders to speak out on the matter?

I was pleased to receive some support after I spoke. I got a lot of messages, including from riders. I think that this unfortunate accident allowed the riders to finally speak about a topic on which it is always difficult to take a side or position. I think all riders are going in the same direction. If there is general awareness, if the media gets involved and the authorities react, I think we can achieve something. We will never get to zero crashes, but I think that some actions must be taken to reduce them and for our safety. We take too many risks. Way too many. No sport takes so many.

“This long time at home really rejuvenated me”

Have the latest events made you reconsider your desire to continue pro cycling for a long time?

No. Precisely, I want to fight for the sport that I love, I want it to evolve. I want us to think in a few years: “f*** in 2024, we were riding like this, can you imagine?” I don’t want to be an old fart and say that it was better before. I’ll go back to racing; I want to feel that adrenaline of the final again. With age and experience, we might see things with more perspective, but I still want to get in the mix, fight, and I think that this long period of rest will, on the contrary, make my motivation grow further.

What do you expect on the Tour de Romandie, which will be your return to racing on Tuesday?

It will be special to put my bib on the jersey. It wasn’t a-year injury for sure, but it will still be emotional. I’m a little apprehensive about my level, of course, because I’ve only done training. I hope to have a good enough level to keep up and not struggle too early, but I don’t expect to make an impact on the race. It’s a WorldTour event, so it’s quite difficult for a comeback, but I’ll have work to do for David and Lenny. I’ll try to quickly get my habits back, as well as the speed of the peloton and the atmosphere. It was maybe a little premature to resume in Romandie given my form, but I really wanted to get back as soon as I had the opportunity and enough capacity. Psychologically, it really helped me, a few weeks ago, to plan my return in Romandie.

How do you see the rest of the season?

It’s hard to say now. When I crashed in 2021, I came back in Catalonia, and I did not finish the race. But then, I felt very well and finished eighth in the Flèche Wallonne for instance. I came back stronger, so I hope to get back to a good level fast. It’s for sure a bit different this time because the brain was hit, but I feel that this long time at home really rejuvenated me. I also feel that on the bike. I have less deep fatigue. These are signs for optimism, and the mindset plays a big role. I think I will succeed in making harder efforts and hopefully it will turn into results. I will need a few races, but I hope that with the Tour de Romandie and a few others after, I will be able to be at a good level by late May-early June, especially for the French championships. This may be a first goal. There is also the Tour. It finishes in Nice, and the whole final is in my region. I have had this goal since this winter, and I don’t think it’s lost. With what happened to me, perhaps I can surprise myself. I’m confident I’ll regain my full abilities.

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