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Placed into an induced coma after a heavy fall on stage eight of last year’s Vuelta a España, Kris Boeckmans’ long road to recovery reaches a very important step on Friday when he pins on a number 165 days after his crash.
The Lotto Soudal rider suffered major facial injuries when he crashed and landed face-first during the eighth stage of the Vuelta.
He also suffered a concussion, three broken ribs, pneumothorax, laceration of the lung, bleeding of the lung and swollen pulmonary tissue in the fall.
Despite that litany of injuries, he will begin the Handzame Classic in Belgium on Friday, making a long-awaited return.
“From the moment I could start my rehabilitation I didn’t doubt for a second,” he said on Thursday. “I didn’t throw away one day. The most important aspect in this story is my mental resilience. I had a goal in mind and knew that I would achieve it. I gave all I got without forcing anything.
“Mentally it was harder than physically. It’s not a problem to do the exercises and follow the guidelines you get. But sometimes you have a difficult moment and then you have to be mentally strong enough to hold on.”
Boeckmans was in an induced coma for almost two weeks and had to undergo extensive facial surgery plus many other procedures. Team doctor Servaas Bingé spoke about what he has been through.
“When we began the rehabilitation Kris had a long way to go. Kris had lost more than fifteen kilograms. He first had to gain weight before we could really start,” he explained. “The first exercise was to sit on a chair, which gives an idea about his condition at that point. Afterwards we kept setting different steps, both mentally and physically.”
He said that the fact that the progress is down to how strong Boeckmans was at the time of his crash. “Also, his immense resilience and positive attitude led to this success. The parameters of Kris are the same as before his crash, his basic condition is very good. Physically he is ready to race again.”
Boeckmans is upbeat heading into his first event. “Tomorrow I’ll start the Handzame Classic as I’d start any race,” he said.
“Mentally I am more than one hundred per cent ready. I’ll see how it will be physically. The test are really good and the training is going great. But every rider knows a race isn’t the same as training. There are so many things that can happen. I don’t know how it will be during the race, but I’m keen.”
According to Bingé, the 29 year old is ‘perfectly capable’ of finishing the race, in terms of physical effort. There is another consideration, though.
“There is also the mental aspect. Together with the mental coach, Nathan Kahan, we tried to counter as much as we could beforehand, but nobody can predict how it will go during the race.”
One issue will be how well Boeckmans copes with any danger in the bunch. Will he hold back? Will he experience nervousness as a result of what he has been through? The answer will come on Friday.
Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant recognises that getting to this point is already a success. “Our first goal was to let Kris become human again. That was already a big performance,” he said. “The fact that he’s back in competition so soon tells a lot about Kris as a person.”
He admits that he was worried after the accident. “To me it’s surreal that he has already come this far. I saw him just after his crash and then there are different scenarios you think of. His rehabilitation has been impressive. The result isn’t important tomorrow. It just is fabulous that Kris is part of the peloton again and that he wants to perform again.”