“Feeling good again,” Degenkolb returns to stage racing in California, unsure about Tour participation

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Competing in his first stage race since a horrific head-on collision at team training camp in January nearly resulted in a severed finger, German John Degenkolb said he’s “feeing good again,” though he’s unsure whether he’ll be in condition to participate in the Tour de France.

Degenkolb is at the Amgen Tour of California, which began Sunday in San Diego.

“I’m feeling good again,” Degenkolb told reporters at Friday’s pre-race press conference at the San Diego Yacht Club. “First of all, I’m very happy to be here. I’ve had some tough months, but that’s behind me now. I’m happy to start my first stage race, but we’ll have to see how it goes.”

A 10-time stage winner at the Vuelta a España and the 2015 champion at Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, Degenkolb has yet to take a first Tour de France stage win — and it’s possible he may not have the chance to do it in July.

Just as his Giant-Alpecin team made the decision to leave behind German Marcel Kittel last year after an early season lost to a virus, Degenkolb is aware that he may not be chosen as part of the team’s nine-man roster to start in Mont Saint-Michel on July 2.

“There still is some time until the Tour,” he said. “At the moment, I am not really sure about my shape. The main focus for the week will be to find the rhythm back, for the racing, and to see what we can do in the sprint — to do at least a couple of sprints, the stages will be quite hard. Of course the goal is to get into good shape, and to try to be back at a really high level for the Tour de France.”

That’s all secondary, Degenkolb said, to the fact that he’s alive, healthy, and still able to race his bicycle.

Along with Degenkolb, five other Giant-Alpecin riders — Chad Haga, Warren Barguil, Max Walscheid, Fredrik Ludvigsson, and Ramon Sinkeldam — were hit by an oncoming car during a team training ride in Spain.

“It was two weeks in the hospital, and I almost lost my finger after this crash,” he said. “It was also a hard time for the team. After the classics, we’ve had a restart. It’s nice to have almost everyone racing; everyone from the crash, all six riders, are back on the bike. For me it’s now my first stage race back in the team, and it’s great to be here, as an important person on the team, as a leader for the team. I’m happy to be in California.”

Degenkolb returned to competition at the one-day Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt on May 1, but along with the majority of the field, he did not finish.

“My first race back was Frankfurt, and that was okay,” he said. “It was good, but I wasn’t able to finish. I hope I can stay in this race , but this is a tough parcours.”

Asked about how he’s dealt with the mental effects of being hit head-on by a car, Degenkolb admitted it hasn’t been easy.

“It was a horrible crash, and that affects your performance on the bike, and how you go back on the bike,” he said. “I was pretty scared before I did my first ride in traffic again, but it turned out to be quite normal.

“I didn’t start too early to go outside,” he continued. “Your body and [mind] needs to finish the process. In the end, I’m happy to be a cyclist again,. I’m happy that I am still alive, and I’m happy to be living the dream to be a cyclist, which is very important to me. I’m lucky.”

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