Lotto Soudal's John Degenkolb, Philippe Gilbert and Tim Wellens are all set to return from injury and line up for the five-day Tour de Luxembourg, which starts on Tuesday, September 15 and runs until Saturday, September 19. Gilbert's progress is perhaps the most surprising of the the three riders, given that he fractured his knee on the opening stage of the Tour de France on August 29, but his speedy recovery will be welcomed by the rider, his team and his fans.
"In the end the patella fracture of my left knee was a re-opening of my old 2018 fracture," Gilbert said, according to a Lotto Soudal press release on Friday. "It's a nonunion fracture, which didn't cause much pain anymore after a few days. That's why I've started my training sessions quite early.
"Yesterday [Thursday], I did four-and-a-half hours of training. I really want to race," the 38-year-old added. "This season is already so short, and I want to perform.
"The stage race in Luxemburg is ideal for me. Already at the Tour de Wallonie [in August], I saw that racing had such a fruitful effect on my condition. I'm aiming for the same effect in Luxemburg. I've missed the Tour, but there are still the Classics. I'm ambitious and very hungry," Gilbert said.
According to Sporza, the Belgian's race programme following the Tour de Luxembourg is made up of the Gooikse Pijl on September 20, the Belgian national championships road race on September 22, and the BinckBank Tour, from September 29 to October 3. Ahead of the latter, it remains to be seen whether he'll be selected to represent Belgium at what is a hilly World Championships road race in Imola, Italy, on September 27, with the squad set to be announced next week.
Beyond that, Gilbert has his eye on the rescheduled spring Classics, with the Tour of Flanders taking place on October 18 and Paris-Roubaix a week later on October 25.
Degenkolb called leaving the Tour de France "a big shock", but, like Gilbert, the German's targeting the Classics in October.
"It was a big shock for me to leave the Tour after one stage, with both knees heavily impacted," said the 31-year-old, who finished outside the time limit on stage 1 in Nice. "I suffered from a contusion on both sides, but a re-check two days later, at the hospital in Frankfurt, confirmed that there were no fractures.
"The first week was very painful, especially because of the road rash, but I've already been back in training for five days," Degenkolb continued. "I'm extremely happy that I can resume competition much earlier than initially expected. My good condition will not be gone – I'm quite confident. The Tour de Luxembourg will be perfect as preparation for the rest of the season, especially for the BinckBank Tour and the Classics."
Wellens, meanwhile, unlike his two teammates, didn't even make it to the Tour start line after crashing while motor-pacing in training a week before La Grande Boucle. He was replaced by Frederik Frison after the injuries to his shoulder, elbow and knee were too painful to be able to race in France.
"I was off the bike for a week," Wellens explained, "but I've been training for over a week since then, and am feeling good – although, of course, I have to see how I feel in competition.
"Luxembourg is ideal for that, and I'm preparing for the Classics. After Luxembourg, I'll then do the Belgian Championships, and I'm also motivated to take part in the Worlds in Imola," he said.
The rest of Lotto Soudal's six-rider squad for the Tour de Luxembourg will be made up of Harm Vanhoucke, Tosh Van der Sande and Tomasz Marczyński.
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