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Sprinter and classics star John Degenkolb was...

Degenkolb just happy to be a cyclist again

John Degenkolb is gearing up for the Amgen Tour of California, his first stage race appearance of the year

San Diego, California (VN) – John Degenkolb will take the start of the Amgen Tour of California not as a favorite for overall victory, perhaps not even as a favorite for a stage win, but simply as someone who is thankful to be alive, and to be able to race his bike again.

On January 23, the classics star was among six Giant – Alpecin teammates struck head-on by a car during a training ride in southern Spain. Injuries across the six ranged from broken bones to severe contusions, but Degenkolb was among the worst affected, suffering deep cuts to his face, arm, and leg, and nearly losing his left index finger. After a long recovery with surgeries in Spain and Germany, and after failing to finish in his first foray back to competition at the one-day Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt on May 1, Degenkolb will make the start in San Diego on Sunday.

“I’m feeling good again,” Degenkolb says. “First of all, I’m very happy to be here because I’ve had some pretty tough months behind me now. I’m happy to start my first stage race. I just have to see how it goes … in Frankfurt I was okay, but I wasn’t able to finish so I hope I can stay in the race here. It’s a tough course so it will be really hard.”

Degenkolb was one of the last Giant – Alpecin riders to return to competition. Chad Haga fractured his eye socket, returned in March, and is currently racing the Giro d’Italia. Warren Barguil broke a scaphoid, and came back for the Volta a Catalunya in March. Max Walscheid is still recovering from a fractured hand and tibia, and has not raced so far in 2016.

The accident sidelined Degenkolb, the defending champion at Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, and took the air out of Giant – Alpecin’s northern classics campaign. The delay in his return to competition was about overcoming both physical and psychological barriers.

“It was a horrible crash and of course that affects your performance on the bike, but also how you get back on the bike,” he says. “I was pretty scared before I did my first ride in traffic outside again. It turned out to be quite normal, luckily. I think it was the right moment — I didn’t go out too early. Your body and your mind need to finish the process and in the end I’m happy to be a cyclist again. Of course, I’m happy to be alive, but also just happy to again be living the dream to be a cyclist. That’s very important for me.”