If ever there was a time to be disabused of any notions of the glamorous life a professional motorcycle racer leads, the weeks immediately following the end of the racing season, after testing has been completed, is surely it. Riders around the world head into operating theaters and physical rehabilitation facilities to have more permanent fixes applied to the temporary patch up jobs done to allow them to keep racing during the season.
There has been a long list of riders having surgery or treatment of one sort or another over the past week or so. On the Friday after the Valencia test, Cal Crutchlow went in for surgery on a finger in his right hand, to have the joint cleaned up and treated for arthritis. Arthritis in joints is a very common complaint in riders young and old, as the joints take a beating in crashes. It is the reason why many riders prefer to head off to warmer climes for the winter, as the cold causes pain in their joints.
Arm pump is another common issue which riders get fixed over the winter. Two of the WorldSBK championship's protagonists had their issues addressed this week, after the last test of the year down in Jerez. Double world champion Jonathan Rea underwent surgery to alleviate the symptoms of arm pump on his right arm. The Kawasaki rider's arm pump had flared up at Jerez, during the two race simulations he put in last Thursday. Chaz Davies had both arms done, after issues with arm pump throughout the season.
Ligament damage is another serious problem when crashing. Nicky Hayden had surgery on his right knee just over a week ago, having the MCL ligament reattached by doctors in San Diego. On Wednesday, Marco Melandri also had surgery on his right knee, to fix a torn meniscus. Unusually for a motorcycle racer, Melandri did not pick up his injury on the track, but rather at a charity soccer match, where he twisted his knee awkwardly.
Bradley Smith is also still recovering from badly damaging his knee, the Englishman having had a bike run over his leg during practice at a World Endurance event at Oschersleben. The damage means that Smith is basically riding without an ACL ligament, a common affliction among motocross riders especially. The recovery period after surgery to repair the ACL is too long (up to six months before full fitness) to get the problem dealt with during their careers, so riders tend to wait until after retirement for surgery.
Smith has been working on his physical rehabilitation, however, and on Thursday, he tweeted that he had made major progress, speaking of a "game changer". Smith spent time at the Red Bull Diagnostic Training Center in Thalgau, near Salzburg in Austria. Having joined KTM, Smith automatically switched energy drink sponsors to become part of Red Bull. Red Bull has an extensive support program for the athletes they sponsor, part of which includes the DTC in Thalgau. It is the second time Smith has received support from his energy drink sponsors for the injury, the Monster Energy athlete liaison having done a great deal for him when he injured his leg in Germany, including having medical documents translated for surgery.
Another common reason for hospital visits by motorcycle racers is to have some of the metalwork inserted during the season removed. Riders will often have titanium plates inserted to fix broken bones if they crash mid-season, so that they can return to racing as quickly as possible. The winter is the perfect time to have such plates removed, as the screws which hold the plates in place leave holes in the bones when removed, and the winter break is sufficient time for the bones to regrow and fill the holes. This week, it was the turn of Moto3 riders Aron Canet and John McPhee to have metalwork removed. Both had suffered injuries during the season and had plates fitted, and both went under the surgeon's knife to have them removed.
Finally, Jorge Navarro also had surgery this week, but not to have anything removed. The Spaniard had suffered problems with his shoulder this year, the joint being prone to dislocation. Navarro, who will be racing in Moto2 in 2017, had surgery to fix the ligaments in his left shoulder, ready for the start of the coming year.
The glamorous life of a professional racer will continue after recovery. While the rest of the world spends the months of December and January fattening themselves up over the various holidays around the world, riders are attempting to adhere to an ascetic lifestyle in the midst of plenty. They are preparing for the coming season by following a hard training regime, while adhering to a strict diet to keep their weight down as much as possible. All in the hope of the fleeting thrill of glory next year, and to improve their chances of victory.