For someone who's been through what Fabio Jakobsen has, it's a miracle not simply that he's lining up for a bike race again, but that two days before the Tour of Turkey, he's in such good spirits.
At the Tour of Poland in August 2020, Jakobsen suffered brain trauma and serious facial injuries in a sprint finish crash, undergoing multiple surgeries, but the main emotion the Dutchman is feeling alongside nervousness ahead of his return is curiosity.
"I'm curious to find out what the reaction of my body and brain will be," Jakobsen told an online press conference packed to the rafters. "Of course I'm a little bit nervous for the race and of course we're with Mark Cavendish [in Turkey] and I think the goal of the team is to win a stage with him there, and I am more than happy to help and I look forward to it...it depends if I'm in front of Cavendish or he's in front of me, I don't mind doing the lead-out for him."
He's trying his best, however, to keep his own aspirations small before this step into the unknown.
"For sure I'm going to be, for the first time, [back] in the bunch in the final kilometre, but in the past I could do it so I hope I can still do it," Jakobsen continued. "In the beginning it will not be as easy or smooth as it was before but I think with time it will grow and I have to trust racing again, trust my colleagues and competitors again. That's a little bit scary but also probably the thing that makes you feel alive also.
"In my mind, I've already won a couple of races but my body has to work with me, I'm not 100 per cent sure but if my trainer says the old Fabio is still in there...I can sometimes feel in training that it's going quite well. Let's say...I'm 50 per cent sure I'll win a race and the other 50 per cent I'm not so sure. I'll only sprint if I feel I can win but I don't think for now that's the case."
It's made clear to the assembled media that we are not here to dwell on Dylan Groenewegen any longer, two questions as to whether the Dutch pair have spoken to each other are shut down, Jakobsen later saying part of the plan in Turkey is not only to test his legs but to test whether he can learn to trust the other members of the peloton again.
"It's clear what happened," he said. "I crashed because of a mistake, I have to get back the confidence that my competitors will race in a fair way because that's important and what makes the sport beautiful. What happened to me is not something you want to happen to anybody. That's why I'm here, to get back the trust with my colleagues."
Jakobsen compares his recovery to getting back to training after a winter break: "At the start you don't feel so well but day-by-day you improve a little bit. Hopefully day-by-day from here I'll be able to win at some point in the future," and when a journalist remarks how sharp the 24-year-old was looking in a recent magazine photoshoot, Jakobsen is able to make light of the dark times he's had over the past eight months.
"First of all, I looked sharp because when I arrived back from Poland I lost 5-6kg and without teeth, it's a little hard to eat that all back," Jakobsen joked, before going on to explain that he's still missing ten teeth, five on the top and five on the bottom, and needs to wait five more months before the bones are strong enough to hold an implant.
Another physical measure that will need checking is how his vocal cords react, the left one having been affected by the crash, and it will be monitored as to how its affected by a maximum effort during a race.
"I don't think I've changed that much," Jakobsen goes on to admit. "I'm still the same Fabio, just without some teeth. But in the training camp in December I could follow my team-mates and in the second camp in January I was able to do almost everything with them, it was not easy but they saw that I still had my legs, still had my body that's willing to work and my mind is also focused on getting back to racing.
"My sprint is not back at the top level yet but I'm still a sprinter and I think that's why they're still confident I can win races. It motivates me that they say things like that, because I think everybody at times has doubts in themselves."
Jakobsen likens where he's at now to being a neo-pro, ready to just listen to his body and his sports director, and the overall atmosphere is one of hope.
"For sure I'll make some time to have a few words with everyone [in the peloton] who wants to chat," Jakobsen finishes, "and it will be a nice experience being back with everyone."
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