Jan Bakelants (AG2R La Mondiale) will make his racing return this week after fracturing his spine, among other injuries, at the end of last season. Bakelants was given the go-ahead by the team’s medical staff and has been named in their line-up for the Classic Loire Atlantique on March 24, just 168 days since his crash.
After fearing at one stage that he might not be able to race again, Bakelants was clearly delighted to have the opportunity to pin a number on his jersey again. There is a hint of trepidation, though, following such a serious injury but he has taken some solace in the competitive returns of Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izagirre, who suffered serious injuries at the Tour de France last season.
“I do not know what to expect. It will certainly feel strange to be in the peloton after having had this serious injury. I hope to be able to make a good impression. I have had a difficult time, well surrounded by Daphne, my wife, Julia, my daughter, and my parents who were at my side in Como (Italy), when I was on my hospital bed. I was very far from being a racer. The human brain must be programmed to forget these terrible moments.
“I hope that my return will be successful. Valverde won again directly after returning from serious injury. Ion Izagirre competed at a very high level at Paris-Nice after having fractured a lumbar at the 2017 Tour de France. This gives me confidence.”
Bakelants was one of four riders to crash heavily on the descent of the Sormano during last year’s Il Lombardia.
He was the worst injured, having tumbled over the roadside barriers and into a ravine and landing on his back. Images of his bike hanging from a tree gave an indication as to the seriousness of the incident and tests later revealed that he had compression fractures of the first and third lumbar vertebrae and fractured seven ribs. He later underwent surgery to stabilise his spinal fractures.
The injuries were serious enough for doctors to doubt that he would be able to race again. However, several weeks later, there was hope and Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad revealed that he could be back training on open roads at the start of this year. When he did finally begin training again, he had to adjust his position on the bike after discovering that he was a centimetre shorter than he had been prior to the crash.
It has been a challenging road back for Bakelants but seeing his teammates make their preparations for the 2018 season provided him with the impetus to keep going. How he’ll respond to racing is unknown but he hopes that he will be able to return to the top step of the podium at some point.
“I was back on my home trainer in December, and I felt pain everywhere. I saw the photos of the team training camps on the social networks, and I really wanted to join them,” he explained. “But for the past month I have had good feelings, and I have trained well.
“Now, I want to become a racer again, and then win races again. In training, we can stop when we are in too much pain. But in a race, I will not have that luxury anymore. Still, I am confident, and I want to show quickly that I am back.”
AG2R La Mondiale also confirmed that Bakelants would race the Volta al Pais Vasco, the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and GP Frankfurt over the coming six weeks.
While Bakelants is back to racing, Silvan Dillier has been ruled out of the Flemish Classics after breaking a finger in a crash during Strade Bianche.