ROME (VN) — The scars are healing, but the trauma remains for the latest professional cyclists who were hit by a car driver while training on their bikes.
Team Quick-Step’s Laurens De Plus and Petr Vakoc were hit by a truck while riding in South Africa last month. They are now on the road to recovery. Vakoc traveled home last week following the incident. Quick-Step star Bob Jungels was also involved, but he escaped the truck’s impact and helped his friends and teammates.
“The mental trauma is perhaps worse than the physical damage,” Belgian De Plus told Sporza this weekend. “I’m pretty sure everything will be all right, but it will take time.”
It is one of many scary incidents in recent years involving professional cyclists. Chad Haga, John Degenkolb, and their teammates were hit head-on by a car while training in Spain. Even Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) was pushed off the road by an aggressive driver while training near his home in Monaco last summer.
South Africa is a hotspot for cyclists seeking warm weather in the winter and some altitude training. This winter, Froome traveled to Johannesburg, where he spent some of his youth and still has a home. Other cyclists like American Ian Boswell and the British twins Adam and Simon Yates also have made the trip.
Jungels, De Plus, and Vakoc traveled together for a Quick-Step mini-camp for two weeks. News broke while their other teammates were starting their seasons at the Tour Down Under and Vuelta a San Juan.
De Plus fractured his pelvis. Vakoc underwent surgery on broken vertebrae and had to recover in South Africa before taking a flight back to Europe.
“We were at the end of a four-hour training ride and only had to drive to the hotel,” De Plus explained. “Suddenly, I was lying on the floor, I had a lot of pain and I realized that I had been hit by something.
“It was all hectic and unreal. Only after a few minutes did I realize that I had been hit by a truck. In the end, we spent almost an hour on the side of the road. The people in the village did everything to help us. There was a nurse, she tried to reassure us a bit.
“Vakoc had the biggest blow. I heard in the first minutes that he could not move his legs, and then you realize that it is very bad.
“I myself had a lot of pain in my pelvis. I knew immediately that it was broken, and there was blood in my lungs, of course, you want to be helped as quickly as possible, but the nearest hospital was one and a half hours away.”
For De Plus, the 2018 season began just as bad as 2017 ended. In October at Il Lombardia, he suffered a high-speed crash over a guardrail on the descent of the Sormano. He overshot a right-hand bend, hit a guardrail, and somersaulted into the ravine below. His bicycle remained dangling above in a tree.
Unlike a racing crash, however, the incident with the truck was beyond De Plus’s control. It, along with the others, is a reminder of how vulnerable cyclists are when riding the open roads.
“It’s very unfortunate that it always has to come to such a situation to wake up,” Luxemburger Jungels said in a YouTube clip last month.
“I think that there are a lot of things that are being done about safety for cyclists on the road. We are definitely the most vulnerable subjects on the road compared to trucks, cars or even a motorbike. We don’t have a chassis around us that protects us.
“We should all consider that, if it is worth the one or two minutes that you lose maybe passing us, then maybe getting into a situation like where were two days ago.”
De Plus, 22, hopes to still compete in the Giro d’Italia this May. Vakoc, if he is lucky, could begin his season later in 2018.