Lizzy Banks is back
Sidelined for two seasons first with a concussion and then by long Covid, our British rider reflects on how she came to make our Giro d’Italia Donne squad
Being on the start line of a WorldTour stage race like the Giro d’Italia Donne is a responsibility and an honor. But for Lizzy Banks, this race also marks her return to the peloton after an absence of the better part of two years.
During the 2021 edition of Strade Bianche, Lizzy suffered a crash and hit her head. She finished the race and days later discovered that she had a severe concussion, one that would ultimately keep her from racing again that season.
Skip ahead to the start of 2022. Lizzy traveled to Calpe, Spain for pre-season camp where she met her new EF Education-TIBCO-SVB teammates for the first time. Just a couple of weeks later, on the eve of what was to be her first race back, she tested positive for Covid. Lizzy later managed to race two days of spring classics but she knew she hadn’t yet fully recovered from Covid. Tests revealed she had developed pericarditis, a complication from Covid. Just like that, Lizzy was once again sidelined for the season.
This May, after Lizzy spent the spring resuming her training and calling upon a reserve of patience she could never have previously imagined, she got the green light to race again. For her first race of the season, Lizzy headed to Arkansas for the Joe Martin Stage Race. After being away from the races for so long, Lizzy knew there were no guarantees as to how she would fare over the four stages.
“The experience of Joe Martin was amazing,” Lizzy says. “It was quite emotional just to be back after such a long time. I think there are so many people that really didn't expect I would be able to come back at all. And so to be able to get back and not just to be back in the bunch, but to be able to do a really good job for the team, it was a really big relief. The team at Joe Martin just worked so well together.”
“Beforehand, I was nervous. I didn't know how it was going to go. The riders and staff were really supportive of me because none of us knew how I would be. And I'm glad that I surpassed all of our expectations. Truly, everybody was so supportive of me before, during, and after the race. I felt so grateful to be in that environment. And it was a real boost both physically and mentally to me.”
After her performance in the US, Lizzy raced a pair of one-day races in Belgium which felt like a second return to racing.
“Racing in America is one thing, but then the European scene is a different kettle of fish. I was definitely nervous [to return to racing in Europe] and I would say that process was completely repeated for when I did my first Belgian race because it was so different from racing in America. Dwars door de Westhoek was a nine kilometer circuit on very, very narrow roads, the opposite of what you had in America, and incredibly windy. I was really quite nervous, but I think I again exceeded my expectations and even by the second race, Dwars door het Hageland, I was so much stronger, really able to help bring the team together and really do a lot of work with the team and I helped AJ and Letizia get into all of the key gravel sections.”
Lizzy understood that it was all coming together: her hard work, her determination, her racing instincts.
“I found that in the second Belgian race, Dwars door het Hageland, I was suddenly at the front of the race again. I was able to be at the sharp end with the best riders, really doing everything I could to protect my teammates. And there was a moment during that race where I just felt so emotional about the whole thing because it's been such a struggle to get to any start line, let alone get to the point where you're actually at the front of the race. I never intended to come back and just be a rider, making it round. I always wanted to come back and be somebody who was actually going to give everything to the team and really be useful. So to already be in that position. I just felt overwhelmed and grateful and just had this very brief moment during the race where the last few years just replayed in my mind and the fact that I even got to this point, it felt like such a huge achievement.”
Though she had just a handful of race days in 2023, Lizzy’s performance impressed the team. Shortly after racing in Belgium, she learned she had earned a spot on the team’s Giro roster.
“I have to say I was absolutely thrilled about it,” Lizzy says simply. “The Giro obviously means a lot to me. The two participations I've done, I've won a stage in both of them and when I raced the Giro, it was at that point the biggest stage race on our calendar so the Giro still holds a really special place in my heart.”
Now that the Giro is underway and just three stages remain, Lizzy almost can’t believe how well the race is going for her personally and for the team.
“It is so thrilling to be here with the team, to be back racing my bike in the WorldTour peloton. We came here with the ambitions of stage wins and suddenly we have found ourselves in the position where we are looking after second place on GC so it’s a huge buzz to be in that position and to have the whole team working for Veronica. We didn’t really envisage ourselves to be in this situation at this point in the race so it’s just a super exciting return to racing. I’m loving being back in the bunch, being back in the community of wonderful female cyclists. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else we can do throughout the race. I’ve been working really hard on bottle duty, protecting our riders, doing everything I can to help. It’s just great to be back and I love racing in this beautiful country.”
And we couldn’t be happier for you, Lizzy.