Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) will make his return to competition earlier than expected, having recovered well enough from a fractured kneecap in a dramatic crash in the Tour de France to come back in the Grand Prix d'Isbergues on September 23.
The Belgian crashed on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet on stage 16 while on the attack from the day's breakaway, and fell over a stone wall onto the ground three-metres below. He got back on his bike and finished the stage, but x-rays taken at the finish in Luchon confirmed the fracture. Initially, he said he thought his season was over, but a few weeks later the picture brightened.
"The first days after the crash were a bit difficult, to be honest," Gilbert said in a press release this week. "Experts were saying that the injury didn't look good and that it would take a long time to recover, many even said the season was over and that I should start focusing on 2019. I didn't want to hear this, however, and wanted to prove them wrong, so I worked really hard to get back, day and night. And I mean it: I literally woke up at night and started doing exercises."
Gilbert left the hospital after two days, renting his own equipment to continue his rehabilitation at home - a move he said was important for his recovery.
"Staying optimistic was the key as I kept working hard every day and after three weeks, I was on the bike again, able to pedal for one hour and a half," he said. At that time, he predicted he might return to racing for Paris-Tours on October 7.
"Truth being told, I still felt a lot of pain and was only doing some 20 kilometers on average, but as the days went by I improved, not pushing hard but going easy. After one week I was able to do two hours and a half, and last week I could finally do a proper effort on the pedals, like eight minutes, and was relieved as I felt no pain and my numbers were rather good."
Gilbert will return to racing in the 1.1-ranked GP d'Isbergues, a lumpy 199.1km route in the Pas-de-Calais department in Northern France, and is planning to step up his training accordingly.
"Over the next weeks, a very hard block of training and some more specific exercises, like training behind a motorbike, will hopefully take my condition one step up and get me some race speed back into the legs.
"I can't tell you how happy I am that I will be back racing this year. There are some interesting appointments for me, like racing in China, both on World Tour level in the Tour of Guangxi and of course in the final Hammer Series in Hong Kong. Our team is sitting second on the leaderboard, so we can expect a good fight for the overall victory next month."