Petr Vakoc (Deceuninck-QuickStep) says that he’s both nervous as excited as he prepares for his first race in over a year. Vakoc will make his 2019 season debut at the Vuelta a San Juan, almost a year to the day after a training crash in South Africa left him with multiple fractures in his spine.
The injury forced Vakoc to skip the entire 2018 season and he has not raced since his eighth place at Binche-Chimay-Binche in October 2017. While the Czech rider is a little apprehensive, he believes the challenges of recovery have made him stronger.
“I will definitely be excited and nervous as well. A little bit unsure of what to expect when we will start riding fast. I think that my body will get used to it,” Vakoc said. “Mentally, I definitely feel stronger and I also think that the pain I will feel in the races will not be as bad as what I felt a year ago. This might definitely help and I hope it can even lead me to become a better rider than I was before.”
In a video posted by the Deceuninck-QuickStep team on the eve of his return to action, Vakoc recalled the accident of last year and recounted his return to fitness. After being sidelined for a whole season, Vakoc says that he’s learned to appreciate different parts of his life.
“At the end of January (2018), we had a training camp in South Africa and we really enjoyed it and then the crash happened out of nothing,” said Vakoc. “At the beginning, I had no idea whether I would even be able to walk again or get back to normal life.
“I had three surgeries. From then it was a long path to recovery, with many hurdles. I definitely learned to appreciate the little things more. I switched the focus from big results and some big goals just to appreciate having my family and friends around. And, just to switch the focus on the things that I could do, instead of the things that I couldn’t.”
Vakoc will be part of a six-man team that rides the Vuelta a San Juan, with Julian Alaphilippe joining him on the start list. It was watching the Frenchman winning a stage of last year’s Tour de France, en-route to winning the mountains classification, that made him realise how much he missed being in the peloton.
“During my rehabilitation, I came to see the team at the Tour de France,” said Vakoc. “That was something I will remember forever because I had a chance to follow the race from the race car and just to see Julian attacking and crossing the finish line with his hands in the air and it’s such a beautiful memory. When I saw it, I was just like “oh, I really miss the racing”. Like, the excitement, the people around, just being around the team.”
Vakoc also paid tribute to his team for the support that they have given him, and he’s been looking forward to racing in their colours again.
“I’ve had really nice support from the team. Both the riders and all the management,” he said. “I got a lot of messages of encouragement. Also, I could count from the day of the accident that once I’m healthy, I can race again for the team.”