After a bike crash last June, South African pro Dan Hugo is back to racing again. Hugo had crashed when a dog crossed the road in front of him while he was in the TT position, leaving him with a shattered clavicle and several fractured spinous processes (a piece of the vertebra). He had been on an upward trajectory in his Xterra off-road career, having finished second at the 2011 Xterra World Championship despite a bike crash (he finished 33 seconds behind Michael Weiss, who was soon after given a two-year ban from competition stemming from a 2005 doping infringement). Hugo spent much of 2012 in his native Stellenbosch, and he’s raced twice so far in 2013. We caught up with the charismatic Hugo to see how his racing’s going, what his goals for the season are and how he spent his recovery time.
Congratulations on getting back into racing! How long were you away from the sport?
Although I crashed June 2, I hadn’t raced the month prior. Somehow that equates to many more months than initially expected.
Remind me of your injuries sustained in the crash. I remember a broken clavicle?
Yeah, a clavicle in seven pieces, and five of my spinous processes fractured, quite high up on the spine. The clavicle got a plate and 12 screws, which healed and strengthened quickly, but the back and the combination of back/shoulder [injuries] took ages to settle. Once calm, it took a while to rebuild soft tissue back to a place of symmetry before loading the system.
How did you spend last year while rehabbing and recovering?
I had a great time despite my moans and sulks. I spent more continuous time here in Stellenbosch than I have in years. I was able to experience spring here for the first time in ages. But yeah, I got deeply involved with a fine wine, a hobby I’m exploring. I even wrote a formal exam last month. I’m partnered in a little artisan ice cream company, and had some fun there. I had the most terrific ice cream bike custom built, which was a highlight in the down time. But yes, all told, there have been months of training too. I have a really solid block of work in the bag.
You competed at the Totalsports Challenge and Xterra Buffelspoort. How did it feel to be back racing?
Grand. It was really good to be racing again. 2012 had some emotional issues to digest. Even before the crash, there were “why’s” and “what if’s.” Sadly my sport upheld its world champion for 2012 despite a two-year ban issued soon after. It called for reflection on why I race. And then the crash. I need to find my balance between being life- and result-balanced. It’s personal.
You blogged a little bit about the loss of mountain biker Burry Stander. What was his impact on the South African sports community?
The effect was immeasurable and unimaginable. Such a deep reach, such a mainstream impact. The extent of it all was equal to the measure of life he lived, all by the age of 25. He seemed so comfortable with life, whether racing, business or even love. All within his stride. It is a bitter loss. The Specialized Team functions as a family and mourned as a family. He will be deeply missed.
Any changes in sponsors for the new year?
I’m most grateful to all who have remained supportive through the downtime. I still have a well-balanced portfolio [of sponsors] between home and the U.S. There is a possibility for a deal out of Germany, which would afford some Xterra racing in Europe, something I’d really like to justify.
Where will you train this year?
My first six months is overloaded with too much racing, but it will hopefully calm my desire to travel and experience. The second six months will have me partly in Boulder, building to the season’s finale, and then back to Stellenbosch in November.
What are your goals for the season?
As mentioned, to be a little more loose and adventurous through the early part of the season, and then focus and roll the dice at Maui. The adventure starts in two weeks—after Xterra Grabouw I’ll head to the Asia-Pacific for a month. My racing will include a trip back to the island of Ilhabela in Brazil, and certainly two events in Europe.