By Jonny Long
Belgian cycling great Eddy Merckx has made his first public appearance since he fell off his bike in October but admits he is still not back to full fitness.
The 74-year-old was out on a Sunday ride with friends when he crashed, suffering a haemorrhage and briefly losing consciousness.
After a week in hospital Merckx was allowed to return home and six weeks later was well enough to make his first public appearance since the ordeal.
The appearance in question was at the Crystal Bicycle, an award given out by Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws to their nation's rider of the year.
Remco Evenepoel took home the honours after a breakthrough season that included a fantastic solo ride to win the Clásica San Sebastián, while Patrick Lefevere won best manager for the third year in a row and Tim Declerq took best domestique, making it three wins for Deceuninck - Quick-Step. Sanne Cant won best female rider.
Although Merckx was allowed to hand out the awards he was only permitted to be out for half an hour by his doctors, "my health no longer allows more," Merckx said, as he continues to recover from the mystery ailment after the fall.
"The doctors don't know what exactly happened. My heart has been checked, that was fine," the Belgian told Het Nieuwsblad, before adding that walking is still a struggle but that he still hopes to get back on the bike one day.
"Walking is still difficult at the moment, because I have been standing still for a long time after the accident. It is not yet optimal. Slowly I should be able to ride the bike again. That should improve."
Things could have been a lot worse for Merckx, though, who explains that he still can't understand how he crashed, and that he was very fortunate a nurse was in the area at the time, who helped him regain consciousness.
"I stopped and wanted to click my foot out of my pedal. I don't know anything after that. Fortunately there was a nurse in the area , that was my great luck. She brought me back to consciousness."
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