Jan Bakelants finally put nearly a year of battling injuries behind him with a strong showing in the final two toughest stages of this year's Tour de Pologne. Next up for the AG2R La Mondiale breakaway specialist will be the Vuelta a España.
Last October, Bakelants suffered a major back injury while racing at Il Lombardia, where he skidded out badly on a rainsoaked downhill in what was a dramatic crash. He was stretchered out of the race and later diagnosed with four broken vertebrae and seven broken ribs.
But after months of fighting his injuries and battling to return to racing with the best, Bakelants took a decisive step in the right direction when he made it into an early, long-lasting, 18-rider breakaway in the final stage of the Tour de Pologne, briefly becoming the overall leader on the road.
The break did not work out as Sky and CCC Sprandi Polkowice drove hard to bring back the move, but even so, AG2R La Mondiale came home with the Tour de Pologne's best team classification and a very satisfied Bakelants.
As the former maillot jaune of the Tour de France recounted to Cyclingnews as the rain teemed down after stage 7, his injuries from Il Lombardia were so severe that he was unable to walk, let alone ride a bike.
After two operations, and a first, unsuccessful attempt to get back into racing in the Vuelta al País Vasco, Bakelants believes that the Tour de Pologne proved that he can be in the thick of the action at the highest level again.
"I was good on stage 6, but not good enough to follow the best on Thursday, but today was a different story," Bakelants told Cyclingnews.
"I'm very happy with my performance here because I showed that I can race well again. The break was working well, but Team Sky were keen to pull us back, they had to fight for it, but it finally happened.
"As so often happens in the WorldTour these days, the level is getting higher and higher. It's definitely a high point so far."
Boosted by this landmark performance, Bakelants will go on to race, he hopes, in the Vuelta a España. "I'm 90 per cent certain to be going," he said.
If so, more breakaways of the likes of the Tour de Pologne will almost certainly be on the cards in Spain.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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