On the road to recovery

With the cycling world paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, Matteo Moschetti is making steady progress to be ready for its restart.

Well before the coronavirus struck Italy and the rest of the world and caused the cancelation of a big part of the UCI race calendar, Matteo Moschetti’s 2020 season had already come to a screeching halt.

Moschetti’s serious in-race crash in early February was followed by successful surgery, and the 23-year-old Italian has since been undergoing a demanding rehabilitation process.

At the end of February, Moschetti traveled to the Italian city of Forlì to continue his rehab at the local Physiology Center, a month-long arduous and solitary journey as his country submerged into a nationwide lockdown.

“We decided together with his family, to entrust Matteo to the care of Fabrizio Borra and his team at the Fisiology Center of Forlì,” explained Dr. Gaetano Daniele, Trek-Segafredo’s head physician. “Matteo remained there alone, sweating and suffering for three weeks, that included six to seven hours of daily work personally and assiduously followed by Borra. This hard work allowed Matteo to obtain results that go well beyond the most optimistic prevision.”

“The rehabilitation project set up by Borra included a first phase of post-surgical normalization and prevention of possible neuromuscular disorders with long work sessions in the water, manual therapy, and scar treatment. This was followed by an early phase of recovery of all skills (mobility, stability, strength, coordination, etc.). Finally, work on reprogramming and automation of the various movements with particular attention to the recovery of symmetry and recovery of tone and tropism of the muscle groups of the pelvis and lower limbs,” concluded Daniele.

A very structured and measured process. Eight weeks after his serious accident, we caught up with Moschetti after his return home and talked rehab, the pandemic, the cycling season, and his plans for the future.

Matteo winning the Trofeo Ses Salines Campos Porreres Felanitx, part of the Mallorca Challenge, in January 2020.

After your surgery on February 11, you traveled south to the Fisiology Center of Forlì to begin your rehabilitation. Tell us how that went?

Yes, I stayed for around a month at the Physio Center. The facilities were amazing, and for the first 3-4 days I worked a lot in the swimming pool. I noticed a lot of improvement with my water therapy sessions, and after three days, I was able to walk without a walker or any support device, which was amazing. Then, in addition to the exercises in the pool, we also started some specific work such as massage therapy and exercises. After that, I began to ride a little bit on the stationary bike.

Was the evolution better than expected at that point?

I saw that I was improving every day. That was incredible, and mentally it made it much easier to continue the process. Yes, some days were hard. You wake up, you feel your body is a bit stiff, and some leg and hip movements are hard. But, despite losing a lot of strength in both legs, on my last day at the Center we did some tests, and they showed that both of my legs were on the same level, which is a really good sign and proof that all the hard work that was done paid off.

Did you have someone staying with you during your rehab in Forlì?

No, I was there by myself. They don’t have sleeping facilities, so initially I stayed at a nearby hotel, but then after 10 days, the hotel closed. They only had around 10 guests, so the management decided to close the doors. It was a difficult situation to stay open due to the expenses and so forth, but luckily the same owner of the hotel had a small one-bedroom apartment not far from the Center, and I was able to stay there until the end of my treatment.

How did you cope psychologically and mentally during this period?

Luckily now with all the technologies like WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Skype, I could keep in contact with my family, with my girlfriend, and with my friends, and they all supported me quite well. And to be honest, I was pretty occupied during the day at the Center. I started the rehab each day at 9:00 am, taking a break for lunch, and then resumed my sessions until 6:00/6:30. So, at night, I was pretty tired and had little time to feel lonely.

Matteo training at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Italy went into a countrywide lockdown during your time at the rehab center. How did you deal with that developing situation?

The situation was strange because the lockdown was initially in just two regions. At the time, I was already at the Center, so my biggest concern was whether I would be able to continue to do my treatments, and fortunately, I could. On the other hand, I knew that at home everybody was safe.

My parents continued to work because my mother works in a supermarket while my dad also had to work because he drives a distribution truck. My brother and sister were at home because the schools closed, but overall the situation was good, they were all safe, so I was quite calm.

Then as the situation became more serious, they decided to extend the red zones to all the regions of Italy. That complicated matters because the hotel where I was staying closed, the restaurants in the regions as well, and most of the shops. I was lucky that the Physiotherapy Center stayed open, but in the last days, there were only four or five patients there, so it was a bizarre situation.

You have since left the Center and returned home to continue your recovery. Have you received the green light to ride your bike yet?

After my last exams, I received the okay to go home and start to try to ride my bike. Naturally, with the lockdown situation, I’m not allowed to go outside to train, but normally when the restrictions are lifted, I’ll be able to ride outdoors. Last Monday, on the 23rd, I rode my Trek bike for the first time since the accident. It was a short 20 min effort indoors, and to be honest, it felt really strange! It’s only because I saw my name on the bike that I believed it was mine because the feeling was so weird.

Now that you’re back home, what’s on the cards in terms of your rehabilitation?

We structured an exercise plan at the Center with the physios that included some core training and some light weights exercises, and then I jump on the ergo and try to ride as much as I can. Some days I can do 20 min, others not even because I feel a bit more tired. The objective is to try to improve every day, but after almost two months off the bike, the adaptation is not straightforward.

The Trek-Segafredo sprinter is working hard to be ready when the racing restarts.

I was more concerned about the situation with the coronavirus and the progress of the infection and whether people would be safe or not. This is not an easy moment. It’s bigger than me, the riders, the team, and cycling.

Matteo gives his trophy to a young fan after his win in Mallorca.

Right now, bike races are suspended for an indefinite time, which puts a big question mark on the future of the racing schedule. You were already prepared for an extended period of recovery, but how does this situation impact you mentally and emotionally?

I think for me, it doesn’t change too much because I was already prepared to face a long period of recovery. Honestly, my first thought was not about the cancelation of races and suspension of the calendar. I was more concerned about the situation with the coronavirus and the progress of the infection and whether people would be safe or not. This is not an easy moment. It’s bigger than me, the riders, the team, and cycling. I can imagine that it’s not easy for the riders that were preparing for all the big goals of the season. It’s pretty difficult mentally for sure, but I believe we will keep the same fight. The goal is somewhat the same for all: for me, to come back after the crash, and for all the other guys, it’s to come back after the virus.

So if the coronavirus pandemic was not happening, what was the timeline that the doctors and the physios say that you could potentially be ready to return to racing in the best-case scenario?

Immediately after the surgery, the doctor said I could start training again at the end of May. But we are now at the end of March, and I’m actually starting to ride my bike, even if it’s only indoors. In two weeks or so, if I can, I would like to go back to the Center and stay there for two, three days to do the last checkup. If everything goes well, I will hopefully be able to start training more intensively. So possibly by mid-April would be my estimation to begin to train properly. Then I would need at least two months of proper training before I’m ready to return to racing.