Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), just three weeks before he races again, has described the intense pain of the Tour de France injury that he says felt as though he was "burning alive".
The Belgian three-time cyclocross world champion will return to race in the Loenhout Azencross on December 27 as he prepares for the upcoming road season. He won Tour de France stage 10 in Albi but has not raced since crashing in the stage 13 time trial, five months ago.
In the Pau time trial, he crashed with a barrier going through a corner.
"We have images that were made with a dash cam from the team car, where you see a piece of muscle disappear, actually stand out," Van Aert told Één.
"I lingered on the hook of the crashed barrier. You can see that perfectly from my injury. The hole in my muscle is really from a knife that went through it. I had never seen anything like it."
He and the Jumbo-Visma team in September were considering legal action against race organiser ASO due to the barriers.
"In my experience it took a long time before the doctors and ambulances arrived," he continued. "But I was down on really hot asphalt and it was as if I was burning alive. I can still perfectly convey that feeling. Emotionally, it really took forever."
It took surgeries plus plenty of rehabilitation before Van Aert could even ride again. He began riding outside only in November and last week, he previewed some cobble sectors of Paris-Roubaix for 2020.
Assuming the cyclocross race goes well on December 27, he could add others to his programme ahead of the road season. But he is not expecting to immediately beat the top riders like Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus).
"The Loenhout cross race is close to home and I look forward to it every year," he said during a press conference last week. "I am very happy that I don't have to miss Loenhout this year.
"I don't expect much this season, which makes sense because I'm coming from a long time off. I'll be very happy when I get the green light to get to the start.
"Of course, I will give the best of myself, but we must also be realistic. The other boys already have many competitions in their legs and getting in so late will not be easy, especially after that injury. I hope to become a cyclist again step by step."
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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