Laurens De Plus is confident that he will come back stronger than before after fracturing his pelvis and sacrum when he and teammate Petr Vakoc were hit by a passing truck while training in South Africa last month.
The 22-year-old made great strides in 2017, his second season as a professional with Quick-Step Floors, and finished his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, in 24th place overall. In his final race of the season, De Plus was off the front of Il Lombardia, chasing the lone leader Mikel Cherel on the descent of the Sormano when he overcooked a bend, rode into the guard rail and flipped into the ravine.
That heart-stopping crash in full view of the television cameras could have been worse. Although in the moment he feared that the crash could end his career or his life, De Plus escaped with just a small fracture to his right knee. The outcome of the incident in South Africa could also have been worse for De Plus, and indeed it was for Vakoc, who had to undergo surgery to stabilize fractures to several vertebrae.
De Plus said the recent crash was disappointing, because he had only just began to feel good again after his previous injury.
"It is tough mentally being side-lined already again after my crash in Il Lombardia," De Plus wrote in a blog on his team's website. "I had good feelings coming into the altitude training camp. No doubt it is a huge setback. But what can I do about it other than keeping my head high and stay positive? That is what I have in mind to do.
"This kind of accident is something you don't wish for anybody to experience but the good thing about it is that I know I am capable of coming back, mentally and physically. That is something I take with me into the road to recovery I have ahead of me. I know I will come back stronger than before."
The accident occurred when De Plus, Vakoc and Bob Jungels were training at altitude in Mpumalanga, east of Johannesburg. Jungels believed that they were clipped by the mirror or front of the truck as it passed.
De Plus says he cannot recall much from the incident. "What I remember is everything was quiet, we were laughing and I suddenly found myself on the ground, not knowing exactly what happened. So unreal. It was a weird experience and painful too. Finally, I realised that Petr and I had been hit by the truck.
"At that moment, I was really glad Bob, Koen [Pelgrim] and Peter De Coninck were there to help us stay calm until the ambulance arrived. It took some time to get to the hospital as the accident happened in a small, small town. Fortunately, we were taken to a very good hospital in Nelspruit, where we were treated with a lot of heart and professionalism."
De Plus described the kind treatment they received from the locals, who visited and kept their spirits up, and how the teammates supported each other.
"Of course, it was also very hard to see your teammate suffering so much. We knew that Petr was in a more critical situation than I was and the first days, especially before the surgery, were tough. I couldn't sleep before I knew the result of Petr's surgery.
"I spent six days at the hospital, which is a long time, but Bob, Koen and Peter came to visit us, which gave a big morale boost every time. I was feeling much, much better when they were there. I think you could see my face changing just when they went in through the door. You are there at the hospital the whole day and then you see your friends."
Jungels, who also stressed in a video last month that they had no regrets holding their camp in South Africa, and how kind the people were, bought his teammates bracelets with the African symbol of unity, which De Plus thinks will be a lasting reminder of their bond.
"I think if we ever race together in the future we can go much deeper than anybody else. We will do great races together. We will forever have a special relationship together and will remember this until the rest of our days."
While he is still walking with the aid of crutches and spending most of his time on the sofa, De Plus is looking forward to resuming training as soon as he is able. "I am ending up becoming a quite good FIFA player but I cannot wait to get back to training and to racing again."
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