Operated on an iliac artery, Nickolas Zukowsky is on forced rest

The spring is difficult for Quebec male cyclists present in the World Tour pelotons.

Hugo Houle (Israel – Premier Tech) missed Paris-Roubaix due to symptoms of a concussion following a fall suffered at the Tour of Flanders a week earlier. His teammate Guillaume Boivin suffered a series of falls and health problems. As for Canadian champion Nickolas Zukowsky (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team), he is the latest to be added to the list, he who underwent surgery to treat endofibrosis in the right iliac artery last Thursday in France .

This problem of compression of the artery which limits the flow of blood to the lower body is not that rare among athletes in endurance sports. Cross-country skier Alex Harvey and cyclists Antoine Duchesne, Charles Dionne and Simone Boilard have all already undergone this surgery.

Boilard is Zukowsky’s partner and it was she who was the first to raise a red flag after he told her of unpleasant sensations in bodybuilding and underperformance in time trials. , where he used to excel. The mononucleosis that the cyclist had last fall also muddied the waters when determining a precise diagnosis.

“If it wasn’t for Simone, honestly, it probably would have been a lot longer before I thought that was the cause of my problems. It’s a somewhat sneaky condition, as we can associate the symptoms with overtraining, discomfort due to exercise or different factors. That’s why it’s not always easy to diagnose,” the 25-year-old athlete told Sportcom, a few days before going under the knife.

The cyclist from Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides has had a series of retirements at the start of the season, including three in his six one-day races.

“This year it was really too difficult and I knew there was something wrong. […] You do everything right: training, nutrition, recovery. I started the season and I didn’t feel like a professional cyclist. It wasn’t much fun,” he said, adding that his last two races in mid-March, the Denain Grand Prix and the Bredene Koksijde Classic, were ones too many.

“These were by far my worst races ever and it was a big blow to morale and confidence. »

At the Tour de Valence, at the beginning of February, the Quebecer said he was dropped from the peloton to the point where he was no longer in the race caravan. The same evening, he called former cyclist Antoine Duchesne to question him, who had been faced with problems of mononucleosis and iliac endofibrosis. The retired athlete shared as much information as possible with Zukowsky, including the contact details of the French surgeon who operated on his left leg when he was riding for Groupama-FDJ.

It was this specialist who operated on the Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team rider at Lyon hospital last Thursday.

“In the beginning, you are able to perform. It’s not mononucleosis, you’re not sick or with a broken leg, explains Duchesne. I did the Tour of Flanders with my endofibrosis and I was able to push through, except that I finished far away. It is when the blood flow increases to 100% that the leg is numb and you are no longer able (to force) within two or three minutes. »

A less efficient leg causes the cyclist’s body to find a way to compensate, muscularly or by changing position, which has a domino effect on everything else. Add to the equation that a cyclist rides 30,000 kilometers per year, the consequences can cause long-term side effects.

“It took me almost two years to feel like I was really through it all. Rigor is required in monitoring and rehabilitation. I tried to come back too quickly (to competition), like almost all athletes do. […] I ended up getting through it, but I put in hundreds and hundreds of hours of (rehabilitation) work to no longer feel anything,” recalled Antoine Duchesne, retired since 2022.

The maple leaf missing from the peloton

Not being able to express yourself sportingly is one thing. Not being up to the task of honoring the Canadian champion jersey he wears is another. It weighs heavily on the shoulders and morale, admits Nickolas Zukowsky.

“This year, the only thing I wanted to do was leave it in my wardrobe and be as incognito as possible. It’s a feeling that I have never felt and mentally, it affected me. You keep going to bat and more and more, you get hit over the head and you almost already know how you’re going to feel before you even try. »

Now that his convalescence is beginning, the trap to avoid for him will be not to rush his return to competition as Duchesne did. The operation will not act like a magic wand and physiotherapy exercises will be essential to get him back into shape. If he follows the instructions to the letter, Zukowsky knows that he will finally be able to put this episode behind him, as Simone Boilard and Antoine Duchesne brilliantly demonstrated.

“I’m quite lucky to have a lot of people around me who went through the same operation,” says the man who wore the best climber jersey at the Tour de Suisse for two stages last year. “I have made a fairly conservative protocol for myself and the last thing I want to do is come back too quickly. The hope is to come back at the end of the season with a good two months of competition and just finish on the right foot. »

Until then, Nickolas Zukowsky is giving himself two or three months before getting back in the saddle and resuming training.

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