Five months after suffering a horrific crash in the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne, Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen gave his first press conference after joining his teammates at the Deceuninck-Quickstep team camp in Spain.
"It's hard to describe with words but to me, it's already amazing," Jakobsen described how it felt to be back with the team. "[The crash] was one of the worst experiences I had in my life and the weeks after, but now to be back here makes me extremely happy."
Jakobsen was unable to put a date on when he might return to competition because he still has to undergo a procedure to have dental implants, although he expressed optimism about getting back to racing this season.
"I'm already back on the bike. I'd like to give you a date - but the first date I can give you is February when I have my next surgery. I have to see how that one goes. If it goes well, then maybe one or two months after I can race again. If there are complications then I might have to postpone it. It's difficult to give a race or a date, but I hope as soon as possible. That's what any rider coming back from an injury wants."
It has been a long road to recovery for the 24-year-old who, after being elbowed into the barriers in the high-speed stage 1 sprint in Katowice by rival Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), crashed through the roadside barriers - his face taking the worst of the impact on the metal edge of the fencing - before he landed on a UCI official who was on the sidelines.
Describing the injuries to Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld last month, Jakobsen listed the injuries that nearly cost him his life: "Brain contusion. Skull fractured. Nose broken. Palate broken and torn. Ten teeth gone. Parts of my upper and lower jaws gone. Cuts in my face. A big cut in my auricle. Broken thumb. Shoulder contusion. Lung contusion. The nerve of my vocal cord took a blow."
Several surgeries later, Jakobsen says "it's going slowly but steadily towards feeling like a professional bike rider again. There's still a long way to go - but I'm happy where I am now.
"All the guys here, especially the riders but also the staff have supported me and have been very nice to me. It's a big motivation to be back.
"Right now, I'm riding my bike again. I'm doing training rides with the guys here. Not all the rides and sometimes I take a shortcut to the hotel but the feeling on the bike is OK."
While Jakobsen was laid up, Sam Bennett emerged as the sport's top sprinter, taking the Tour de France green jersey and two stage wins, and the active rider with the most Tour stage wins, Mark Cavendish, signed to the team.
"I'm in the team right now with the best sprinter of last year's Tour de France and the best sprinter in the Tour of all time. It's a huge motivation that they also support me," Jakobsen said.
"This team is like a family, we spend time with each other, we care for each other, I think I can say we love each other in a positive way."
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