Vakoc aiming to return to racing in February

Czech rider sets 100-day target after missing entire 2018 season with spinal injury

Petr Vakoc is set to make his comeback in February after what will be more than a year on the sidelines due to a collision with a truck left him with serious spinal injuries.

In a blog published by the Quick-Step Floors team, the Czech rider revealed he has set himself the target of returning to racing in exactly 100 days' time.

Circulated on November 6, that would make the comeback date February 14, which is the day of the Tour de la Provence one-day race in France. However, the blog post is dated November 5, so there is a chance Vakoc could instead ride the Colombia Oro y Paz six-stage race, which starts on February 12.

"I was hit by a truck and I am lucky to be alive. After three surgeries, months of rehabilitation and gradually increasing the training load it seems I might be able to come back. Not just back to normal life, but back to racing. My goal is to be on the start line again in 100 days from now," Vakoc wrote.

"It is a path with an uncertain finish line, but which in itself is a goal. I am passionate about racing again. And not just racing, but winning. I am working hard to get back to the level where I used to be. And even higher. I would like to share my story with fans as well with people overcoming obstacles in their life. I am approaching this path with humility, as you can try really hard, but there are things outside of your control."

Vakoc, who turned pro with Quick-Step in 2014 and has won the Brabantse Pijl and Czech Cycling Tour, suffered the accident in South Africa while training in the province of Mpumalanga, east of Johannesburg, in January this year with teammates Bob Jungels and Laurens De Plus.

The 26-year-old broke several vertebrae, requiring a two-week stay in hospital in South Africa before he could return to his home in Prague. He hasn't been able to compete in a single race in 2018, but was already pedalling his bike in March - albeit from a supine position, with his bike suspended from the ceiling - and was able to ride outside on the road by the end of June.

He began training properly in the summer, joining teammates on a training camp in Livigno in July, and it looked like he might return before the end of the season. However, he suffered a setback in August when he was told he had lasting nerve damage in his left leg.

"It was weaker since the beginning. The hamstring does not function well. I am not able to run. It is not shown so much when cycling, but a few per cent of the performance is missing. I feel it is getting better gradually, but nobody can predict if the leg will fully heal," Vakoc wrote in his blog. "The return to peloton is postponed. I will not race this year. But I am willing to get fit and prepare for the following season. This will not break me down."

After an encouraging training block in Colorado in September, in which he says his numbers came close to his racing performances, Vakoc set his sights on the 2019 season. Despite the continued nerve damage in his leg, in October he signed a contract extension with Quick-Step Floors and pencilled in the February return.

"The nerves in my left leg are still damaged and the healing process is slow. The development is positive, and mainly, the performance tests end well. It is not clear how much it will limit me during the races and if I will be able to get back to my previous level, but the team is behind me," he wrote. 

"I should restart racing at the end of February. I am grateful for all the support of the other riders, coaching team, doctors, management. I can devote all my energy to rehabilitation and training to be able to return in the best shape. I do not feel pressure from the team."

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