Read our rider's emotional blog on the incident in South Africa and his pledge to fight hard in order to return to his very best.
First time in South Africa
We were all really looking forward to this camp and going to South Africa, because none of us had ever been there before so it was like an adventure for all of us. We left Europe in the evening of the 19th and landed in the morning of the 20th in Johannesburg, wherefrom we drove a few hours to get to the place we were staying in Mpumalanga.
At around 3 pm, we finally arrived at this beautiful, beautiful place on the top of a mountain, just in time for a short spin on the bike. We were all completely blown away by the breathtaking nature we had in front of us. It felt like finding yourself in a documentary on National Geographic or something like that. Everything around us was just amazing, super beautiful.
We were staying in a small guest house located at 2100 meters above sea level but the weather was still very nice and it had this very special, familiar feeling there – not anything like a hotel. One of the special things about this camp was also that we were only five people there – me, Bob, Petr, our coach Koen and soigneur Peter. You become close to each other quite fast and already during the first days we had a good time together.
Preparing for a great season
One of the best experiences in my life was going to the Kruger National Park on our rest day, the day before the accident happened. We had had three good days of training and on the fourth day we went out to see this amazing place with giraffes, hyenas and wildlife.
Every day we had something to visit and see on our training rides. That was our goal too, to see something during training, because we were surrounded by this magnificent nature. The first day, we went to the waterfall and the other days we saw monkeys and so on.
The camp was meant to give time to focus on the small but important details like eating right and relaxing well. Basically, focus on the new season and get a mental boost. It is not often you get chances like that but here we had everything we needed – and all these things should have made for a great build up ahead of the new season. We all expected that and I am thankful to the team for giving us this opportunity.
A huge setback
I am really disappointed and sad about all that happened. It is tough mentally being sidelined already again after my crash in Il Lombardia, in October, especially as I was starting to feel good again. My body was feeling a lot better and the shape was getting there. I did some good trainings and tests at the Bakala Academy, and I had good feelings coming into the altitude training camp. No doubt it is a huge setback. But what can I do about it other than keeping my head high and stay positive? That is what I have in mind to do!
This kind of accident is something you don't wish for anybody to experience but the good thing about it is that I know I am capable of coming back, mentally and physically. That is something I take with me into the road to recovery I have ahead of me. I know I will come back stronger than before.
Regarding the accident, I think we were quite lucky in that sense it could have ended much worse, both for Petr and myself. I don't remember much from the accident – how it all happened. What I remember is everything was quiet, we were laughing and I suddenly found myself on the ground, not knowing exactly what happened. So unreal! It was a weird experience and painful too. Finally, I realized that Petr and I had been hit by the truck. At that moment, I was really glad Bob, Koen and Peter De Coninck were there to help us stay calm until the ambulance arrived. It took some time to get to the hospital as the accident happened in a small, small town. Fortunately, we were taken to a very good hospital in Nelspruit, where we were treated with a lot of heart and professionalism.
In fact, I was really surprised of the amount of people who came to help us – even people who didn't had to do it, people you wouldn't expect came to help. Right after the crash, a local nurse quickly came and helped us mentally, to stay calm, and people from the village did as much as they could. At the hospital, a lot of people came to visit us. South African people, people from Czech Republic and Belgium, all came to visit us, even though we didn't know them. They just wanted to say hi, give us good spirit to help us through this bad experience. There are so many heart loving people out there in the world. Even the lovely people of the guesthouse came to visit us and surprised us with a carrot cake – Petr's favourite.
After the accident, Petr and I were together at all the times, which gave some comfort to be able to talk with your teammate and good friend. Of course, it was also very hard to see your teammate suffering so much. We knew that Petr was in a more critical situation than I was and the first days, especially before the surgery, were tough. I couldn't sleep before I knew the result of Petr's surgery.
Brothers in arms and the road ahead
I spent six days at the hospital, which is a long time, but Bob, Koen and Peter came to visit us, which gave a big morale boost every time. I was feeling much, much better when they were there. I think you could see my face changing just when they went in through the door. You are there at the hospital the whole day and then you see your friends.
Bob bought us all a necklace and bracelet with the African symbol of unity. It means a lot to me, to all of us. Just looking at it and having it on gives a big boost. I think if we ever race together in the future we can go much deeper than anybody else. We will do great races together. We will forever have a special relationship together and will remember this until the rest of our days.
The next weeks, I will try to recover by enjoying some time with the family at home and then I will look forward to restart training when my body is healed. I will have to walk with crutches over the next period to limit the pressure on my pelvis but I will mostly stay in bed or in the couch to give my pelvis the best possible recovery. I am ending up becoming a quite good FIFA player but I cannot wait to get back to training and to racing again.
A big thanks to everyone for all the messages and love I have received!
Photo credit: ©Sigfrid Eggers