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Gent-Wevelgem: Lizzy Banks emotional on racing return after yearlong injury break

After catching COVID ahead of her planned return, Banks gets back into the peloton for the first time in over a year.

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YPRES, Belgium (VN) — Lizzy Banks (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) had to wait over a year between her last race and the 2022 Gent-Wevelgem.

Banks was ruled out of nearly the entire 2021 season, just two races in, after a heavy crash at Strade Bianche left her dealing with a concussion. She had planned to get back to racing with her new team at the opening weekend last month but had to postpone it after she caught COVID-19.

After a year without racing, the 30-year-old rolled onto the big stage in the center of Ypres on Sunday afternoon to be presented to the cheering crowds ahead of her racing return.

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“It’s really good to be back, it’s been a really long time. I’m not going to lie, I’m nowhere near fit,” Banks told VeloNews at the start. “I pretty much had four weeks off the bike soft-pedaling after COVID so my legs thought it was December when I started riding again properly last week. I’m here to build up my fitness and try to do everything I can for the team for as long as I can.

“I was pretty unwell [with COVID], I was really struggling with my breathing on the bike. I just couldn’t breathe properly. It took four weeks for my breathing to come back to normal, so I had to come back really slowly. That was why I couldn’t train and why I’m really unfit right now.”

After suffering another setback at the start of the spring, Banks tried to keep a level on her expectations ahead of the weekend. She’d had enough disappointment that she wasn’t ready to get her hopes up and have them dashed yet again.

However, as she was prepping for the race the night before and then mixing with her fellow riders in Ypres on Sunday brought the emotions out.

“It feels pretty emotional actually. I thought I was fine last night but then I started writing the race notes for today and I felt it. This morning I felt quite emotional,” she said. “So many people were saying it’s nice to have you back. I guess I’m just trying not to think about it. You never know what is going to happen in a race.

“I’ve had my fair share of bad luck. You never know what is going to happen. I didn’t want to jinx anything by saying it was my first race because the last time I said that I tested positive for COVID.”

Banks will leave Belgium with more stories to tell than just her return to racing and she regaled the Ypres crowds with a story about her encounter with some local children ahead of the race.

During a pause on training ride, a young girl had asked her if she was a professional.

Struggling with a language barrier, the girl’s teacher came over to help and some classmates soon followed. It was an experience that left Banks excited to see a passion for women’s cycling.

“They were so excited, and they said it was so great that they could watch the women’s race on the TV as well and not just the men’s,” Banks said. “As a professional cyclist, I’m excited to see that excitement from a 10-year-old girl who stopped me on the street. Things are really changing and moments like that are when you really see change. There’s also people here, quite often you wouldn’t have people here for the women’s presentation.”