Tadej Pogačar fractured his scaphoid in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, the same day Pier-André Côté won the Pan American Championships road race in Panama.

Which report ? Less than two months earlier, the cyclist from Lévis had also broken the scaphoid of his right wrist in a fall at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a Belgian event which opens the season of spring classics, concluded in Liège with another crushing triumph. solo of world champion Remco Evenepoel.

On the phone Monday night, Côté was amused by the coincidence: “We were just making jokes yesterday. It was said that I would send him a message to offer him my protocol if he wanted to become a champion again… But I think I have nothing to teach Tadej…”

After a promising start to the season at the Saudi Tour – four out of five stages among the top 15 – Côté was very eager to test his excellent condition on the Belgian cobbles, his favorite ground.

However, after a hundred kilometers at the Omloop, the Canadian champion visited the asphalt. He clung on until the first cobbled sections, which he crossed with one hand before branching off to the coach of his American team, Human Powered Health (HPH).

He first hoped for a sprain, until the twinge convinced him to have an x-ray in the evening: “It started to hurt just to exist, without moving or putting pressure. »

An orthopedist inserted a titanium screw in him, as Pogačar did, during the operation at Ghent University Hospital. This procedure promotes fusion between the two pieces of bone in this poorly vascularized area. It therefore accelerates the return to the saddle.

“I had such a great serve, it was amazing. They know that, cycling, in Belgium. They got me back on my feet, it really didn’t take long. They made me a special splint. The day after my fall, I rode on the trainer. »

Back in Girona, where he lives, the 26-year-old Quebecer has revised his spring plans and made good luck against bad luck.

“When you travel and run a lot, there are a lot of uncontrollable elements. You build the form at home and try to ride it once at the races. You don’t often have the chance to have a month and a half at home, where you control everything: sleep, training, nutrition. So we really tried to see it as an opportunity to train well. »

As long as he was deprived of races and confined to the road simulator for a few weeks, he joined the climbers in his training who were just starting an altitude protocol… in a hypoxic tent.

Côté therefore slid his mattress into a tent connected by a long tube to a compressor he had placed in the living room. This installation simulates altitude by controlling the concentration of oxygen in the air and stimulating the production of red blood cells in the blood. For a conclusive result, he had to spend 12 hours a day for three weeks.

“You don’t realize it, but it’s a big part of the day. You already have the six-hour ride that takes you seven, realistically. Time to get up, get ready, it’s another two hours. You don’t have much left for cooking, laundry, daily chores. It hasn’t been easy. »

It was even less so when his girlfriend, Lily Plante, a professional cyclist like him, returned home between a training camp in Canada and a track competition in Egypt.

“She didn’t find it easy, but she was really supportive. She slept in a small single bed next to ours. I made every effort to be as present as possible when I was not in the tent. I had a rule of thumb: don’t do anything outside the tent that I could do inside. So I did all my office work, taxes, emails, studies, in the tent. When I was away, I enjoyed time with Lily. »

Fortunately, they could ride together when the type of training allowed. “We made the best of the situation. We could watch movies. She placed the computer on her side and I was able to hear. »

Three weeks after his operation, Côté was able to start riding outside again with his brace. He resumed competition on April 11, in Italy, before heading to Panama to represent Canada with his HPH teammate Charles-Étienne Chrétien, as well as Francis Juneau and Jordan Cheyne.

The quartet played their cards perfectly during the 204.8 km race, a 15-lap circuit deployed on a highway. “It didn’t look like much, but it was still 3300 meters of elevation gain. It was like big valleys, somewhat comparable to those of Beauce, I would say. Bumps where you can see the top, but you still have to press down to get to the top. »

Facing the main power, Colombia, numerically advantaged with six runners, Canada was betting on a sprint finish with Côté.

With 20 km to go, he attacked to measure the remaining forces. “People were a little borderline. Charles-Étienne came back to me after a few minutes and we formed a group of eight. It was going backwards in the peloton when we went out. Quite quickly, we took a gap of 30 seconds. With five kilometers to go, we knew we could focus on the finish. »

Sure of himself, Côté whispered in Chrétien’s ear: “We’re running for a double podium. We can afford to be a little stingy. No need to start to secure victory. »

In fact, Côté won ahead of the Argentinian German Nicola Tivani. Third, Chrétien also raised his arms to celebrate his teammate’s triumph.

“If someone had told me that I would be Pan American champion at any time in my career, I would not have believed it,” said the first North American to achieve the feat since Martin Gilbert in 2007. “I never dreamed of it because I considered it out of reach. In addition, it is on a return from injury. »

For Côté, who financed his trip himself, like all his teammates, this victory guarantees him participation in the Glasgow World Championships next summer, where all the disciplines of cycling will be brought together for the first time. .

This success is also his first since his Canadian title acquired in Edmonton, in June 2022. He had dedicated it to his mother, operated for brain cancer.

“In scope, a continental championship is bigger than a national championship. But I think my victory at the Canadian championships will remain special. It was the first and there was the context of my mom. »

It is not without a twinge in his heart that the native of Gaspé will trade his precious maple leaf jersey of national champion for that of Pan American champion at the Tro Bro Leon, in Brittany, from May 7.

“The maple leaf still has a certain cachet. It was a great pride to wear it. The jersey is amazing. The folks at Human Powered Health are going to have to do a good job of making me such a cool Pan Am Champion jersey! »

As for Tadej Pogačar, Côté has no doubts about his ability to return to his best level by the start of the Tour de France on July 1 in Bilbao.

“I’ve been rolling on my wrist for a week and I could easily forget I’ve ever broken it. I’m back to 100% strength and mobility. [Sunday] I won a sprint and did the same numbers I always did, if not better. Honestly, it’s really amazing what medicine can do these days. »

This double hit is a real blessing for the Canadian team, which is chasing UCI points in this year of quota allocation for the road events of the Paris Olympics next year. Pier-André Côté pocketed 250 and Charles-Étienne Chrétien, 150.

By comparison, Evenepoel received 275 points for their second win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Canadian Michael Woods, 12th, added 95 points to bring his total to 528 in 2023. Thanks to this harvest, Canada can still hope to field two men in the City of Light next summer.

Côté highlighted the contribution of Jordan Cheyne (27th) and Francis Juneau (48th) to his victory and to Chrétien’s bronze medal.

“The guys paid for their tickets too. They had as much right to honors as Charles-Étienne and me. At a certain point, it was necessary to bring the race back together because Colombia was no longer able to do so. Francis and Jordan did an impeccable job. »