Speaking to Het Laatste Nieuws (opens in new tab) and other Flemish media, the Belgian QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rider said that he'll only be able to get back on the bike this Friday and is set to miss the cobbled Classics campaign this spring. There is a small chance, however, that he will be back to full strength in time for Paris-Roubaix.
"I don't have to start from scratch but I'm sure it will feel like that when I get back in the saddle for the first time on Friday," Declercq said of his first training day since being diagnosed with pericarditis – an inflammation of the lining of the heart – last month.
"I'll soon be back at a decent level – around 70-80 per cent. But it's a somewhat depressing thought that even with a well-trained body you lose condition quicker than you build it. It will take time.
"I haven't cycled for 17 days and that's almost as long as my winter break. I think it will take at least four weeks to get back in touch with the high level of the peloton. It's unfortunate to miss the Classics but that's how it is. I'm mainly looking forward to the day that I can start training again."
Declercq last raced the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve before he was hit by pains in his chest and breathing difficulties in the evening. He hasn't been on the bike since then, and, faced with a month-long fight to get back to 100 per cent shape, said that making the team's Tour de France squad is now his main goal of 2022.
"Depending on how my condition progresses, there may be a very, very small chance to race Paris-Roubaix because this year the race is a week later," he said. "But even then, it would be a 'mini peak' and it's questionable whether I'd make the selection, which is no easy task on our team anyway.
"I'm more aiming at the second part of the season – making it to the Tour de France is now a main goal."
Declercq, who turns 33 this month, said that he was initially fearful of his diagnosis before learning more about the condition, which is relatively mild with treatment.
He also noted that the condition has opened his eyes to the after-effects of COVID-19, which he caught following the Saudi Tour in early February and which has likely contributed to his pericarditis – a condition believed to be caused by viral infections.
"At first it was quite horrifying," he said. "'Oh dear, my heart', I thought. Then I dug a little deeper and realised that, all in all, it wasn't that bad. Pericarditis is not a 'real' heart condition – there was no fluid accumulation or scar tissue, my electrocardiogram was completely normal, and an MRI ruled out myocarditis. I don't have to fear any long-term consequences, but still you don't take your heart for granted.
"I tested positive [for COVID-19] slightly symptomatically – I didn't have a fever or anything like that. So, I thought 'it can't do any harm, there is no great danger'. But it turns out you have to be more alert with it than with a normal cold, because the virus likes to 'attach' itself.
"I hear I'm not the only one in the peloton, that there are several riders who are going through more or less the same thing. In my opinion, it's a pity that they don't come out and break the 'taboo' because in essence there is nothing serious going on."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.