He should have been racing his time trial bike in Palermo on the opening day of the Giro d'Italia, but there was still a sense of achievement as Remco Evenepoel went out for a short loop in the rain in his native Belgium.
Just a month and a half ago, the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider suffered a dramatic crash at Il Lombardia, falling off a bridge and fracturing his pelvis. After surgery, a spell in hospital, and time on crutches, his rehabilitation has progressed to the point where he was able to ride his bike outside for the first time on Saturday.
The weather was grim and Evenepoel was wrapped up against the elements, but it represented a major step in his comeback from such a major injury. On Instagram, he titled the 70km ride 'My Grande Partenza', referring to the 'big start' of the Giro.
"I can’t tell you how happy I am today after my first time outside in almost two months. The weather wasn’t great, but I enjoyed every single moment spent on the road," Evenepoel said.
"I made this step only after talking with the team’s doctors and it just so happened that I returned on the day I should have been in Palermo with the Wolfpack for the start of the Giro d’Italia. It’s kind of special and acts as a huge morale-boost, one that motivates me to work even harder as I stride to come back stronger.
"If the weather will be good, I will combine these outdoor rides with gym sessions over the next few weeks as I continue my recovery."
Evenepoel had originally been told by doctors that he would only be able to ride outside again from the middle of November. He has spent most of his days with physiotherapists, working on pelvic stability and flexibility, and recently started turning the pedals indoors on his home trainer.
"Did my recovery not go much faster than I could dream of? Certainly," Evenepoel said as Belgian TV station VTM were invited to capture the moment he went out for his first ride.
"At first there was talk that I could only make my first training trip in mid-November. But I rested well, looked after myself well, actually did everything they asked me to do. As a result, everything accelerated."
Evenepoel, still only 20, was considered a favourite for the Giro title after winning the Vuelta a San Juan, Volta ao Algarve, Vuelta a Burgos, and Tour de Pologne in only his second season as a professional. However, the Lombardia crash, where he fell down into a ravine after following the favourites down the Sormano descent, ended his season.
At first, it appeared a career-threatening and even life-threatening crash, but Evenepoel's progress will inspire confidence he can return to his best.
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