Remember Michael Torckler? If his name does not jog your memory, he was the victim of a violent crash on Pine Flat Road on June 29, 2012. If you still need help, read about it here.
The relevance of this story is that the Kiwi-born cyclist has been released from his professional team and on Oct. 28, he will be saying “Cheers” to Sonoma County as he departs permanently to his native New Zealand with his wife, Rowan, who is also Kiwi. There is much more to this story, and I was fortunate enough to meet up with Michael on Sunday.
We met in Montgomery Village and over the next hour we talked about pedaling along through the fall colors of vineyards towards Healdsburg. Only 27 years old, he has the boyish looks of a gangly teenager with spindly arms and legs. However, when riding a bicycle, they flow in the perfect perpetual motion of a seasoned pro.
From Michael, I learned that pro cycling is in a period of contraction. Now, the climate is of consolidation. Corporate sponsorship is drying up. The reason is the dual-headed monster of past doping scandals combined with a weakened economy, most notably in Europe. With a virtual game of musical chairs that has very few seats, riders have been scrambling for the very few pro contracts that are available. The irony is palatable. Past riders made fortunes in their doped glory, but in their wake a newer generation that is committed to fairness is left to scrape by with a smaller pool of sponsor money.
It was easy to ask the obvious, “So a young, clean generation of riders is being punished for the sins of the past? Does that make you bitter?”
There was a change in expression as he answered, “It’s tempting to be and initially we were, but we’re choosing to trust God is working it to the good somehow. My dream has been to be on a World Tour team and race in both Europe and the States.”
He went on, “I had the terrible accident in 2011, a mass pileup in New Zealand, with my knee that took me out for nine months (photo of scars below). I was 24 at the time, which is right in a cyclist’s prime. Then in 2012, I had the accident here (broken right arm, 24 facial fractures, three days in a coma) which really set me back.”
By 2013, Michael had fully recovered, and won the King of the Mountains competition in the Tour of Utah against an elite field of many World Team Pros. This year after his Team Bissell disbanded, he raced for Team Smart Stop Storage from North Carolina. With high expectations from his team, his year did not go as planned. He explained, “First, I crashed hard at the Tour de Gila (New Mexico) and just before the two most important races of the year, (Tour of Utah and US Pro Challenge in Colorado) I got sick. Those races are huge in trying to be noticed by team managers. Plus, being a foreigner does not help and it just did not work out.”
Wrapping up our ride as we wheeled into Healdsburg, I asked “How has your Sonoma County experience been?” The mood changed for the positive this time, “It has been great! People are really supportive and that means a lot. I meet people all the time who tell me that they prayed for me when I was in the hospital.”
“Plus the weather is very consistent and there are so many different roads to ride that it does not get boring while training. In New Zealand we get four seasons of weather in one day quite often and that makes it tough, especially with the wind.”
Anything you won’t miss, I asked?
“Four way stop signs are very annoying! We have roundabouts at home. That is much easier to ride through.”
Michael is nicknamed “The Comeback Kid” for good reason. I believe we will see him again.
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– Bruce McConnell