Kris Boeckmans' long awaited return to racing was confirmed by Lotto Soudal earlier this week, and the Belgian will line up Friday at the 1.1 Handzame Classic in his first race since crashing out of the Vuelta a Espana last year and being placed in an induced coma for two weeks. At a press-conference on the eve of the Belgian race, the 29-year-old explained he always believed he would recover from his injuries and return to the pro peloton.
"From the moment I could start my rehabilitation I didn't doubt for a second. I didn't throw away one day. The most important aspect in this story is my mental resilience," said Boeckmans, who also suffered facial trauma, three broken ribs and bleeding on the lung in the crash. "I had a goal in mind and knew that I would achieve it. I gave all I got without forcing anything. Mentally it was harder than physically. It's not a problem to do the exercises and follow the guidelines you get. But sometimes you have a difficult moment and then you have to be mentally strong enough to hold on."
Only able to ride for five minutes at a time on October, Boeckmans explained that he is unsure how his body will react to the demands of racing but approaches his return to in familiar fashion.
“Tomorrow I'll start the Handzame Classic as I'd start any race," he said. "Mentally I am more than 100 per cent ready, I'll see how it will be physically. The test are really good and the trainings are going great. But every rider knows a race isn't the same as a training. There are so many things that can happen. I don't know how it will be during the race, but I'm keen."
Team manager Marc Sergeant explained that Lotto Soudal's first concern for Boeckmans was always personal and is still coming to terms with his quick recovery considering just six-months that he was in a coma.
"Our first goal was to let Kris become human again. That was already a big performance," said Sergeant. "The fact that he's back in competition so soon tells a lot about Kris as a person.
"To me it's surreal that he has already come this far. I saw him just after his crash and then there are different scenarios you think of. His rehabilitation has been impressive. The result isn't important tomorrow. It just is fabulous that Kris is part of the peloton again and that he wants to perform again."
Team doctor Servaas Bingé added that Boeckmans is prepared and ready for the Handzame Classic and unpredictability of race day.
"We did all we could to get Kris ready to race. Medically Kris is perfectly capable of finishing the race. But physical parameters are easy to measure. There is also the mental aspect," Bingé said. "Together with the mental coach, Nathan Kahan, we tried to counter as much as we could beforehand, but nobody can predict how it will go during the race."
Boeckmans, who won stages of Etoile de Bessèges, Tour de Picardie and World Ports Classic along with the one-day Le Samyn and Nokere Koerse - Danilith Classic races, will be joined by Lotto Soudal teammates Sander Armée, SeanDe Bie Jasper De Buyst, Gert Dockx, Frederik Frison, Tosh Van der Sande and Jelle Wallays.