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Charles Dionne, back after a hellish year
By Lyne Lamoureux
Date: 6/30/2007
Charles Dionne, back after a hellish year

Canadian Charles Dionne saw his dream of joining a Pro Tour team turn into a nightmare as he waited to get treatment for his injury and had to sit out most of the 2006 season. Learn more about his injury, his recovery and his 2007 season with his new team.

Photo courtesy of Colavita/Sutter Home

Canadian Charles Dionne of the Colavita/Sutter Home Men’s Cycling Team presented by Cooking Light

Date of Birth: 03/15/1979
Residence: Québec, Canada

I am 28 years old, I still love racing, and even more when I win. - Charles Dionne

Canadian Charles Dionne worked hard to join the ranks of the professional cyclists. "With a lot of will, I had a dream, and I trained hard and did everything to get where I wanted to be. I started to get noticed by winning big races, and it grew from there."

Dionne garnered national attention when he won the San Francisco Grand Prix in 2002 beating a field that included Lance Armstrong and received the VeloNews 'North American Ride of the Year' award following that victory. He continued his winning ways in North America during the 2003-05 seasons in which he became the only rider to win the San Francisco T-Mobile International race twice.

He joined the Saunier-Duval Pro Tour team in 2006 which brought him closer to his dream of racing the Tour de France, but his dream turned into a nightmare when he was diagnosed with an external endofibrosis of the iliac artery in the left leg early in the season and had to sit out the rest of the year waiting for an operation.

External endofibrosis is a thickening of the iliac artery where the blood does not circulate well under high stress. Dionne had no problem when his heart rate was under 150 beats but anything above that made it "extremely painful in my left leg" and caused his leg to swell. While not a common injury in the general populace, it is somewhat frequent for high level cyclists who train thousands of miles, such as Stuart O'Grady and Christophe Rinero who had both legs impacted by this serious injury.

The diagnosis was established relatively quickly after Dionne submitted to an effort test but he had to undergo two "scary" arteriographies as the first one was not able to find the obstruction in his leg. With the second radiography, the doctors were able to find that it was a big lesion in his left leg and then he had to wait for the operation.

Unfortunately, the operation kept getting delayed for weeks and then months during the 2007 season. "I thought that I would be operated on immediately in March and that I would be back in July. But the operation was delayed, delayed, delayed...." All this while living in Spain by himself and his morale hit a very low spot. "I was in my apartment in Spain, I don't know a lot of people, it's raining outside and I can't ride because of the injury, and they keep telling me that the operation would be the next week, and then no, no, the week after that. Then I said that's enough I'm going home, I've had enough. "

But the doctors kept insisting that the operation would happen and Dionne waited in Spain for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally the operation happened on October 26th, 2006, and by that time, Dionne was alone again, as his girlfriend had to go back home to Québec due to all the postponed operation dates. "By the time my parents arrived in Spain, I had been in the hospital two days by myself. It wasn't easy, it was hell, I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

The operation went well as they grafted an artery from his lower belly to his leg begetting some major scars. Dionne finally returned to his beloved province of Québec, started carefully to ride again in mid-December and ramped up his training as much as possible to regain his lost form.

In 2007, Dionne chose to join a US-based team, the Colavita/Sutter Home Men’s Cycling Team presented by Cooking Light, in order to recover and find his winning ways again. He had been in touch with the team over the past three years and Dionne is now working again with team manager Tom Schuler who was his manager during his year with the Saturn team in 2003. "I think I can play a good role with this team. The team knew that it would take some time before I could be on top. I am confident and I think that they also are confident. I think that all the pieces will get there at the same time."

Dionne likes the team and appreciates the international flavor with riders from different countries. "They speak a bit of everything in the team - Italian, Spanish and Irish, that is another language," he said laughing. "I like it and I can practice my Spanish so I won't lose too much of it."

Dionne was happy with the start of the 2007 season at the Amgen Tour of California but then he caught a pneumonia and again he was off the bike. "Ten days of doing nothing and taking antibiotics, I really didn't need that." His recovery took longer than expected and he started to wonder if anything else was wrong. "I was starting to ask myself questions on what was not working. The doctor told me that it was after effects of the pneumonia."

Charles Dionne at Redlands Classic
Photo c. Lyne Lamoureux

At the Tour de Georgia in April, Dionne started to feel better, and could now focus on increasing his training to return to his full winning form. "I haven't done all the training that I wanted to to. I am not at one hundred percent but not too far, I am still missing a bit of punch in the final." Dionne did finish seventh in the second stage at the Tour de Georgia and continued to improve his form and earned a fifth place finish at the Commerce Bank Reading Classic in June during Philly week.

At the end of our conversation, we briefly touched on the subject of cycling in the province of Québec and his opinion that cycling is growing. "I think there is more (cycling), there are good races, there are more and bigger teams now." He hopes that he "can motivate the younger cyclists, that they see the results in the newspapers." Dionne loves the sport and thinks that "cycling is the best sport even if the young cyclists don't become professionals. It enables traveling, learning a new language, all those good things."

He also takes great pleasure in seeing more compatriots at races. For example, at the US Open Cycling Championships race held in Virginia in April, "we were maybe twelve Québecois in the race, it's great for the morale. It's like having a piece of home with me" and I couldn't agree more with that statement.

His goal for the 2007 season is "very simple, win some races". And Charles Dionne finally won his first race after "a year in hell" as he took the overall title at the Peace Race in Canada after winning three of the four stages. His next big challenge is the upcoming Canadian Championships.

Bonne chance Charles, and welcome back.

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