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Homecoming of sorts for cyclist injured in hit-and-run

  • Michael Torckler is working his way back from injuries suffered during a training ride on Pine Flat Road above Alexander Valley in June. (Bissell Pro Cycling Team)

When Michael Torckler rides into Santa Rosa on Sunday morning it will mark a triumph.

It was less than one year ago that the 26-year-old New Zealand native lay in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, shattered and broken from a devastating hit-and-run collision suffered during a training ride on Pine Flat Road above Alexander Valley in June.

Torckler, riding alone on the steep and rigorous road used as a fitness test by world-class cyclists, was struck by a driver who then left the 136-pound cyclist nearly lifeless and bleeding on the side of the road.

He suffered more than 15 facial and skull fractures, a broken arm, a broken hand and torn knee ligaments. He spent 12 days in the hospital before returning home to New Zealand to recover.

The driver, Arthur Yu of Rohnert Park, had stolen his father's car while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. A passenger in the car got out to assist Torckler, and Yu fled. Yu was arrested in Rohnert Park and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after pleading no contest to charges related to the vehicle theft and the hit-and-run.

It was unclear in the early days whether the recovery of Torckler's body would match his will to return to racing.

“I was definitely pretty nervous,” he said of his return to training on roads. “It took a bit of time.”

But Torckler, and his career, have proven resilient. He was signed to the Santa Rosa-based Bissell Pro Cycling team in October and finished sixth in the New Zealand national road race in January. He got the call to race in the Amgen Tour of California two days before the elite stage race began May 12.

“This is by far the hardest race I've ever done in my life,” the Tour of Borneo champ said. “Some of the better riders in the world are here. It's just another level than I've ever ridden.”

Torckler will be in 49th place in the overall standings heading out of San Francisco on Sunday.

“I definitely don't feel like I've returned to my full form that I've had in the past,” he said. “But things are definitely on the up, which is pretty cool.”

Riding into Santa Rosa for the race's grand finale will be special.

Torckler has been living and training in Santa Rosa since February. It also was where he recovered in the early days after the collision and where his parents, Linda and Brohn, were taken in by the cycling community while their son healed.

So when the peloton rolls into Santa Rosa, it will be a homecoming of sorts for a man born and raised 6,500 miles away.

“It will be pretty cool,” he said. “It feels like another home to me. It feels pretty cool to be riding the tour into your hometown. I'm looking forward to it.”

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