Edward Theuns' past 12 months have been a struggle with pain and recovery from broken vertebrae suffered in a crash at the 2016 Tour de France, so when he crossed the finish line Thursday to win stage 4 at the BinckBank Tour, the 26-year-old's celebration was about more than just adding another line to his palmares. The Trek-Segafredo rider announced his return to form with his first win since May of last year.
"It's a big relief. I am really happy," an elated Theuns said after the finish in Lanaken. "I had a real rough time since I crashed in the Tour last year, and I worked really hard to come back. After the spring classics, I again had surgery to take out the pins in my back, and since that surgery, I feel that I am getting stronger every week. I had a great training camp at altitude during the Tour, and now it pays off."
Theuns enjoyed an impressive spring last year with Trek-Segafredo during his first season on the WorldTour, finishing third in Dwars Door Vlaanderen and fourth in a highly competitive Scheldeprijs. Further success followed with s stage win at the Baloise Belgium Tour, leading to his first Grand Départ in July. The decision was vindicated with a couple of top 10 places during the opening week, but in the stage 13 time trial Theuns' debut season came crashing down when he fell on a descent and suffered a compressed fracture of the T12 vertebra.
He returned to racing this spring at the Tour Down Under and has been slowly rebuilding form despite lingering pain from the injury. He was second in a stage of Three Days of De Panne and finished an impressive eighth in Paris-Roubaix. Then he took a break in April for surgery to have some of the remaining metal hardware in his spine removed. Another recovery ensued, and he returned to racing again in May.
Theuns has been knocking on the door for another win since then, grabbing top 10 results and podium spots, and he finally broke the win barrier on Thursday, sprinting in ahead of Marko Kump (UAE Team Emirates) and Tim Merlier (Vérandas Willems-Crelan) after his team pulled back late breakaway rider Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors).
"[Trek-Segafredo director Dirk Demol] told us in the radio that Lampaert had a pretty good gap, but in the last kilometers to just focus on good positioning and sprinting so I wasn't really looking at the situation," Theuns said. "In the end, the gap opened on the right moment and Boy [van Poppel] could go to the front with me and Jasper [Stuyven].
"When I started the sprint, I was able to go a little bit to his wheel, and it gave me a better slipstream, which was perfect for me. The lead out was really good, and I am super happy to give a reward to the whole team, for the hard work they do."
Thuens finsihed second to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) the day before in Adrooie, providing him and the team with the confidence boost needed to usb Theuns across the line first.
"After yesterday, I really believed in it, and the team believed in it," he said. "Already yesterday we were really riding together as a group, and it was close, and today we tried again. Yesterday after the stage Dirk said tomorrow we go again for it, and in the end, it all turned out perfect."