Facing fear and finding motivation
Tanja Erath on returning to the Women’s Tour after her 2021 crash
Crashes come with the territory of being a professional cyclist. Eventually, everyone comes off their bike and you cross your fingers you can walk away with “just” road rash.
Eight months ago, Tanja Erath crashed on the opening stage of the Women’s Tour. She didn’t just crash. She crashed hard. Broken collarbone. Broken rib. Fractured spinal column. And sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. As a nurse and doctor, Tanja fully understood the severity of her injuries and the long road to recovery that lay ahead. While there have been inevitable ups and downs as her body healed, the German rider has confronted mental obstacles as well.
Over the weekend, Tanja completed a block of racing that she had looked at with quiet apprehension since getting her race calendar: RideLondon Classique and the Women’s Tour. This pair of stage races were the first time she returned to the UK since her crash last October.
"Lightning never strikes in the same place twice."
“I tried not to think too much about it and to not get completely caught up in it,” Tanja says about her thoughts ahead of racing the Women’s Tour. “But I took the same journey to get to the race that I did on the way back from the crash — taking the ferry again and knowing we were going to have the finale in Oxford where I was in the A&E unit and that didn’t really help make me feel good about it.”
Between her head and her heart, Tanja was a jumble of mixed emotions. “I felt excited about racing a six-day stage race but at the same time I was quite anxious about racing back in the UK and knowing that if something happens, I might get caught up in the NHS again,” Tanja says with a dark laugh.
Despite her understandable hesitation, there were two thoughts that helped to bolster Tanja.
“Somebody said it well: lightning never strikes in the same place twice. So I just told myself you’re not going to crash in a really bad way and hurt yourself really badly in the same race twice. That was my mantra to tell me everything’s going to be fine.”
And the other thought that motivated Tanja throughout the six stages of the Women’s Tour?
Knowing her teammates depended on her.
“That’s the whole point of why I love bike racing is that I can ride for somebody else,” Tanja says. “I have the team to work for and it’s not about a solo performance but about a team performance. This is what I’ve always enjoyed about bike racing coming from triathlon where it’s only about you.”
Tanja knew the Women’s Tour offered opportunities for Letizia Borghesi in the sprints and for Veronica Ewers on the climbs. She refused to disappoint her teammates.
“The first day Leti was our leader and she had a puncture with a few kilometers to go. I was in a good position at that moment and Tim, our DS, said I needed to drop back and bring Letizia to the front so I did that and it worked quite well. That was kind of an Aha! moment where I saw I could still do it.”
That’s not to say that things always go smoothly but Tanja takes solace in knowing what drives her.
“That’s also motivated me in the past to overcome my fears, to do it for somebody else. I did that again with being hesitant to race in the UK again but going there to not let my teammates down.”
Not only did Tanja finish the race unscathed, her teamwork helped Veronica and Letizia both have top ten stage finishes as well as an eighth place overall for Veronica.
It’s been a long road for Tanja, but she has traveled an immeasurable distance and she has done so with courage and honesty.