Michael Valgren's road to recovery
The Danish classics star is working hard on his come back while looking after his young family
Michael Valgren’s life changed in an instant.
He was attacking down a steep descent, racing through corners to make the break at the Route d’Occitanie, when he came into a bend too hot. He had no time to brake or brace himself. He hit a guardrail at full speed and flew over a cliff. As soon as he landed, he knew something was wrong. Only at the hospital did he learn how bad his injuries were. X-rays showed that he had fractured his pelvis and ruptured his ACL, his MCL, and the meniscus in his knee. That evening, the doctors couldn’t say if he would race again.
Michael already has one little one at home. His wife was a few months’ pregnant with their second child. That morning, he had been preparing for the Tour de France, ready to go for a stage win in front of home crowds during the Danish Grand Depart. There would be no glory this summer. Michael now faced a long hard struggle just to be able to walk without a limp. It would be months before he could pedal. He never once doubted that he was going to come back.
“I love my job, and I will do anything I can to get back to it,” Michael says. “I really don’t want to end my career with an injury. I always want to say I will stop when I don’t want to do this any more, and I am absolutely not ready to stop. I love my life. Not being on the bike, not being a bike rider, is something that I just can’t think about at the moment.”
Michael’s love for racing is getting him through his rehab. All of the dedication and determination that he used to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Amstel Gold Race he is now devoting to his recovery. He is working with the best doctors, going for the most progressive treatments, wearing Incrediwear every day to speed his recovery. It is still a hard slog. For months, Michael couldn’t ride a bike. His days are now filled with exercises to strengthen his pelvis and heal his knee. Every morning after breakfast, he spends an hour and a half on a knee-bending machine. Then, he goes to the physio for three and a half hours, comes home for lunch, and spends several more hours on the knee bender, before icing the joint. He can now ride his Wahoo KICKR bike for 45 minutes per day in three 15-minute sessions. He spends the rest of his time trying to look after his family. Michael’s wife is expecting their second son soon and has to spend much of the day in bed or on the couch. Every weekday, Michael has to bring their little boy to school and go pick him up in the afternoon. Michael helps with shopping and meals. He wants to be strong for the baby.
“I have a newborn coming in a month and I want to be ready for him when he arrives so I can be there for the family,” Michael says. “That is a really big motivation.”
I am in really good hands and I am working hard every day, so sooner or later I will be back.”
Cycling gives Michael strength. Physio is no fun.
“I went from training 25-30 hours per week to not doing a single thing cardiovascular wise for months,” Michael says. “It was hard, because you get a lot of energy from doing exercise. I was still doing exercises, but those exercises at the physio are more just about pushing through pain. It’s not a nice feeling. I am trying to get through it in the best possible way, but it is not like I get a big kick out of it. I really miss getting a good sweat on and getting my heart rate up.”
Being able to pedal again has been a huge relief. A couple of weeks ago, Michael went for a Manipulation Under Anaesthesia treatment. His doctors put him under and then put his knee through a series of movements to break up the scar tissue that was blocking the joint. The day after, he had a go on his Wahoo KICKR bike and found he could finally pedal a full rotation.
“It was like a victory,” Michael says. “It was probably too soon, but I had to try. ‘Heck yeah, this is good,’ I thought.”
Now, for the first time in months, Michael has a frame of reference. Up to now, there’s been no roadmap for his recovery. Before he could really begin work on his knee, his pelvis had to heal so it was strong enough to bear his weight. He couldn’t predict when he would be able to move normally or wake up without pain. Some days felt better and some days felt worse, but he never really knew how well his body was healing. He just had to keep doing the work and trying to recover and hope for the best. On a bike, Michael knows exactly where he is at—and where he is going.
“Right now, I basically have to keep this range of motion without having too much pain and then really try to work on my pelvis and hip to get strong, so I am not compensating when I am on the bike, twisting and stuff like that,” Michael says. “That is the good thing about these injuries. The best thing that you can do to recover from them is go on the bike, and that is my job, so the sooner I could get on the bike the better. I am finally back on the good path. I have much more range of motion in my knee. I can finally do a whole pedal stroke, so now things are moving forward again.”
Michael dreams of the day when he can spin along the Côte d’Azur and head into the hills behind his Monaco home to climb his favourite cols in the Provençal Alps. For now, his Wahoo KICKR bike is the next best thing.
“It’s great for my situation at the moment,” he says. “I can adjust it. My position on the bike is pretty weird right now, but it fits me. I can adjust the pedals. I am using short crank arms. I can adjust my reach and how the saddle fits me, so that is a big plus. It’s about comfort and not performance now. Performance will come when I can get back on the road.”
That will be soon enough. Now he can pedal, he will slowly build up his strength. In order to allow him time to recover fully and not rush his recovery, Michael will start the season on the roster of the EF Education-NIPPO Development team. His body will remember what it was made to do. Our team supports him 100%.
“I’ll be honest. When I’m going to be at full strength is hard to say,” Michael says, “but, I am in really good hands and I am working hard every day, so sooner or later I will be back.”
This comeback is one of the great challenges of his career, but Michael is showing true grit. Pushing over wet cobbles at the end of a 250-km classic takes toughness–we knew Michael had that–but pushing through months of painful rehab, when no crowds or cameras are watching, and looking after your family shows real character. We’re proud of you Michael. See you at the races soon.