Some 50 metres after the summit finish line of the stage 1 time trial at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on Wednesday, close to where the climb's badly tarmacked road finally petered out for good in the roughly ploughed countryside, Esteban Chaves wheeled to a halt.
After a quick swig of water, Chaves hugged a Mitchelton-Scott staff member to say thanks, and one imagines, out of pleasure and relief, too. The tarmac on Valenciana's first climb might end just a few metres away, but after more than eight months without racing, this was where Chaves found himself - finally - fully back on the path he wanted to be on.
Barring the Mitchelton-Scott staff member and two journalists, nobody else was waiting for the Colombian, but as Chaves said, it the fact that he is simply riding again that matters.
"I'm pleased," Chaves said. "It's incredible to be back again, to be with friends in the team and at the finishes, and to be racing once more.
"But it's different too. Everything in itself feels like a victory now - after what happened to me."
In the Giro d'Italia, after a strong start with a stage win on the Mount Etna, Chaves was poleaxed by a combination of viral infections, including glandular fever, a sinus infection and allergies.
He finished, but in 72nd place overall and a shadow of his earlier self, and then spent several months off the bike, fighting and identifying the illnesses and viruses before being cleared to resume training.
As Chaves sees it, the last eight months have been a learning curve, but with valuable lessons. "We [riders] have to learn to appreciate what we have," he observes.
"We don't have a normal life. Sometimes in this sport, we live in a bubble, and things like travelling around the world and being in a top team - that's not normal.
"Ten or 15 years ago, I would be happy if a professional racer gave me a pair of gloves. Yesterday, I had two suitcases worth of kit, and I'm racing with the best riders in the world again, in the best races in the world.
"So I'm happy to be back. I'm feeling emotional about it, nervous and scared too, but that's normal. We're only human. But we enjoy it, and that's the most important thing."
As for Valenciana and his options during the race, Chaves said his feelings on the bike on Wednesday were "good, even though I don't know my time, I hope it'll have been good." [Chaves finished the 10.2km time trial in 13:31, finishing 36th on the stage, 36 seconds down - ed.]
"But it's good, too, because I've been working hard on my time trialling. So we'll have to see how we are."
His objectives in his first race since the Giro d'Italia, he said, "will be more for the team than personal. We've got a very strong team here, and we can get some good results here. I'm sure that tomorrow [Thursday] we'll be working hard for Matteo [Trentin] and then for Jack [Haig] and [Adam] Yates; as ever I'll be giving it 100 percent to help them."
Asked which moment had proved to be the hardest in his comeback, Chaves said it would be difficult to rank. "The three weeks after I started riding a bike again were tough. I hadn't been able to do any physical activity beforehand, and I think I had the worst form of my life.
"But there were good friends and family, here and in Colombia, supporting me all the way."
After the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Chaves will go onto a training camp in Almeria, and then return to racing again in the Vuelta a Andalucia on February 20th.
"Then after that, we'll see, it depends on how things go," he said.
For now, Chaves agreed, he is taking things on the day-by-day, even sometimes on the hour-by-hour, but at the very least, as he wheeled his bike around and back down the stage 1 climb to the waiting team buses, Chaves knows he is, finally, back in the fray.
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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