AUSTIN, Texas — His broken collarbone surgically mended, Lance Armstrong is on the clock.
The seven-time Tour de France champion will be back on his bike in days even though the bone may take eight to 12 weeks to fully mend. Armstrong must resume training almost immediately if he’s to meet his goal of racing in the Giro d’Italia, which begins May 9.
The 37-year-old American cyclist also plans to ride in the Tour de France this July.
Surgeon Doug Elenz inserted a stainless steel plate and 12 screws to stabilize the broken collarbone on Wednesday, two days after Armstrong crashed in the first stage of the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon race in northern Spain.
“Lance is going to be a patient who is going to push the envelope,” Elenz said. “This first week we’re going to make Lance take it easy … ask Lance not to do a whole lot.”
After taking a few days off, Armstrong will be allowed to ride a stationary bike. Then doctors will monitor his arm strength, range of motion in his shoulder, as well as his pain, to decide what kind of training he can do. Doctors don’t want him to strain his upper body in any way for a while.
Just hours after the surgery, Armstrong was posting to his Twitter feed, reassuring fans.
“howdy folks. Made it thru. Took longer than we thought. Playing with my kids right. Making me feel A LOT better,” he wrote.
Although doctors initially thought it was a simple fracture, Elenz said X-rays showed it was broken in four pieces.
Rating the three-hour surgery on a scale of one to 10, from easiest to most difficult, he called Armstrong’s procedure an 8.
“This was a challenge,” Elenz said. “It was a hard case.”
Elenz said the 12 screws were more than he might normally use, but he felt they were needed knowing Armstrong’s goals. The surgery to stabilize the bone required about a 5-inch incision and the steel plate measures about the same length, said Elenz, who added it’s likely doctors will someday remove the plate.
Armstrong, who has a home in Aspen, Colo., returned to elite cycling this year after a 3-year layoff. When he announced his comeback last September, the cancer survivor said his primary goal was to spread his Livestrong message as he raced around the world.
During a conference call Tuesday night, he said he was frustrated the injury came just as he was getting into top shape. He was among the top 10 riders for much of the race Monday before he crashed about 12 miles from the end of the stage.
Now, he’s determined to get back to the front.
“I think the Giro is still very doable,” Armstrong said. “This is definitely a setback, no doubt. It’s the biggest setback I’ve ever had in my cycling career, so it’s a new experience for me.”