POCITO, Argentina (VN) — Petr Vakoc (Deceuninck-Quick Step) feared if he would return to a normal life and if he would be able to race again. He survived.
In Argentina, along the Andes Mountains that separate the country from Chile, Vakoc completed his first race back after a truck hit him during a training ride in January 2018.
“It was hard to imagine one year ago, I was just happy to be alive one year ago,” he told VeloNews.
“I was hoping to do the full recovery. I wasn’t thinking about cycling, at that time it was so far away and I couldn’t even think about being able to come back.”
On January 25, 2018, a truck hit Vakoc and teammates Bob Jungels and Laurens De Plus while they were on a training ride. The 26-year-old Czech rider came off worse, suffering multiple fractures in his spine. At first, his survival was in doubt.
Instead of starting the 2018 season, he began a long recovery process. He learned how to walk again, pedaled his bike while laying down in bed, and, after several months, returned to the road.
Sunday’s 159.1-kilometer stage from San Juan to Pocito marked his first race since his eighth-place finish at Binche-Chimay-Binche in October 2017.
“The biggest doubts were if I would be able to follow the fast accelerations, racing in the echelons, but in the end, I could get in the racing mindset,” he said.
“I covered the early moves and then after a while after an escape went that we were happy with, I could start pulling. For me, the hard part was the heat rather than pulling.
“When the echelons formed, I wasn’t so comfortable, it had been awhile, suffering and riding 80km an hour in the wind was … I was scared. I wasn’t used to it.”
Vakoc and the team worked for sprinter Alvaro Hodeg, who placed fifth behind winner Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates).
After last year’s crash, Jungels managed to call for help thanks to a woman near the incident.
“I really hope that no one ever has to experience what I did with my two teammates,” Jungels said last year.
“From one moment to another, you can have a laugh with your buddy and the next, you are running around screaming, you don’t know what to do. Having him in your arms and you don’t know if he’s going to be able to cycle again, walk again, or whatever.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Vakoc said Sunday. “I don’t know the cause why the driver went off the road and hit me.
“I don’t really have time and energy to get to it, and now it’s far away. I just don’t think about it. It’s behind me.”
Vakoc’s next goal is to continue building fitness with the Vuelta a San Juan and the Tour Colombia next.
“I just hope to get comfortable in the bunch very soon,” he said. “Then start riding for results.”