Kiwi cyclist George Bennett is battling an old nemesis, and running out of options for a solution.
Bennett has struggled with a side stitch problem throughout his whole career, and it plagued in a disappointing Vuelta a Espana, where he suffered on his way to finishing 35th overall.
Surgery this time last year was meant to solve the problem, but it returned earlier this year in the Giro d'Italia, and proved to still be an issue during the Vuelta.
While Bennett has managed the issue in the past and still recorded strong results in major tours, he struggled in the Vuelta's final week, plummeting from 10th overall as he couldn't hang with the other general classification contenders.
Bennett is undergoing medical, physical and physiological testing with his LottoNL-Jumbo team to figure out what went wrong and how to change it, but the ongoing side stitch problem is the number one priority, and Bennett admits he's running out of options.
"We're talking to a lot of people, maybe try some nerve blocks after the season – it's bloody frustrating, I'm sick of it being an issue but unfortunately the reality is it's still there as bad as ever. It's a big limiter, you can put up with it in a week-long race but in a three week race it's a burden that's physically there," he told Radio Sport.
"It baffles me – they can grow body parts in labs and do all sorts of crazy things but they can't fix the bloody side stitch. I guess it's not a fatal disease and the answer is 'don't go as hard and you won't get it', so it's not really a medical priority, but unfortunately in cycling the name of the game is 'go as hard as you can', so it's something I'm left with to battle myself, which isn't really what I should be worrying about.
"When I thought I was over it earlier in the year, I had a bit of pain-free time and the difference was really amazing. On one hand it's exciting that if I do solve it, it's like unlocking the next level, but for the moment it's a tax. I've been really fortunate with other things but this is just one thing that seems to be my battle."
While disappointed with his performance at the Vuelta, Bennett proved to be a valuable helper for teammate Steven Kruijswijk, who finished fourth overall, and is keeping things in perspective.
"It's super disappointing with how things worked out in the last week. My first two weeks were almost my best two weeks, and then my last week was the worst of the season.
"A lot of disappointment, but I'm also keeping in mind that it is just a bike race – life goes on and there's plenty more to come."
Last on the schedule for 2018 is the world championships road race in Austria next weekend, where Bennett is an outside chance - if he can recover in time - to become just the second New Zealand male to earn a top 10 finish.