We caught up with our neo-pro on his first season with Quick-Step Floors and the road to recovery after his Tour de Pologne crash.
Long time no see! How are you? How are you handling the off-season? Bet you're counting the days left until the beginning of the new one.
I am counting too, but my countdown is already for the training camp in December. I am very eager to join my teammates, whom I haven't seen in a while, and get back that feeling which I've been missing since crashing out of the Tour de Pologne. It was the low-point of a season that otherwise augured well once I donned the Quick-Step Floors jersey for my first race, in February, the Dubai Tour.
That was a really nice way to kick off the season; great weather, sunny and warm, and we won four stages plus the general classification, which had the gift of helping me ease into the pro peloton. Then, shortly after returning to Europe, I got to start my first one-day races, Handzame Classic and Le Samyn. It was a different type of weather than the one in the Emirates, but I liked it, because I got to gain invaluable experience and also notched my first top 10 of the year.
Spring brought two of the Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne – and the Tour de Romandie, where I came very close to a podium in the prologue. I didn't expect such a result against some of the best riders in the world, many who were there in top shape. That result gave me confidence for the Tour of California, which brought me to the US for the first time in my life. My priority was to perform lead-out duties for Marcel, but despite that, I managed my way to a top 15 overall, which was a solid result considering how hard the week was, with echelons, some tough climbs and an ITT at 2000 meters of altitude.
In June, at the National Championships, I was hoping for a good result in the time trial, but I had a really bad day and could finish only fourth. A few days later, in the road race, I tried to make up for the disappointing ITT and was in the mix right from the start. The race was very hard and the peloton was shattered on the first climb of the day. I made the cut, responded to many attacks, but it was difficult against riders who had many teammates in the race. Overall, it was an important experience, from which I really got to learn some things that I hope will come in useful in the future.
With the first part of the season wrapped up, I was very motivated to make the selection for the Vuelta a España, but unfortunately that Tour de Pologne crash changed the plans and forced me to draw the curtain on my season and instead start a long road to recovery, which now is only half-way.
After the surgery, the doctor told me I need to use the crutches for more than three months, and it was only in October that I began riding the bike on the rollers, 30 minutes every day, just to move the leg. Now I feel much better – the doctor told me that he was satisfied with my progress – but I can tell you that the first week after the surgery was really difficult and painful. Once I came home, it took me some time to get used to it, as all I could do was move from the bed to the couch to watch the races on TV. Since then, I began moving my leg more and even went swimming in the pool, which aided my recovery.
The goal is to be fit for the start of the training camp in December and build up. I am aware that I will need a bit more time to regain my condition, but the motivation is there. Of course, I'm not setting the bar too high after such a heavy injury; I have to work hard and see how my body responds before making any plans, but what I can tell you is that I want to make my Grand Tour debut next year; it would be a dream to see this long road to recovery come to an end with me pinning on the number for the start of such a great race.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele