FARO, Portugal (VN) – Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) admitted to some pre-race jitters before the start of stage 1 at the Volta ao Algarve (Tour of the Algarve) on Thursday.
That’s not a surprise, considering it’s his first race back in the peloton following his horrific crash in last year’s Tour de France. That crash, dubbed the “Metz massacre,” saw dozens of riders hit the deck in a massive, late-stage pileup.
Flash forward seven months and Poels was excited yet nervous on a warm spring morning in the Portuguese port city of Faro.
“It’s my first race in a long time. I am a little nervous, but I am also happy to be back in the bus, with the guys, racing again,” Poels told VeloNews at the start. “It’s been seven months with no competition, so I am really looking forward to coming back to the race.”
While some of the bigger names grabbed the headlines that day at the Tour, including Giro d’Italia champ Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who was forced to abandon, Poels was among the most seriously injured.
He broke three ribs, suffered a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, and a heavily injured kidney. After weeks in the hospital, Poels didn’t get back on the rollers until late September.
“As a racer, that was the worse thing that’s ever happened. I hope I never have another crash like that. It was really, really horrible,” he said. “To be in the intensive care for two weeks was awful and then at home, you cannot even go to the bathroom because you’re on your back. I have to forget that and look to the future.”
The 25-year-old admits he’s almost starting from scratch, so he cannot predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months.
“My goal is go back to the Tour, but I will only go if I am good and I can make a good result in the stages,” he said. “I will only do that if I am feeling strong. We have to see how it goes here for four days and then look further.”
After Algarve, he’s scheduled to race one days at Almeria and Murcia and then the one-week Tirreno-Adriatico. He said the Algarve race was an important litmus test of where he stands.
“It’s been so long since I’ve raced. First we have to see how I am going here for four days,” he said. “If I am really suffering, then we have to change something.”
The 25-year-old Dutchman made a solid impression in the 2011 season, winning a stage and finishing second at the Tour de l’Ain and posting three top-five results in mountain stages at the Vuelta a España. He was hanging in the top five of the overall before dipping to 17th.
Last year, after winning a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg, Poels started his second Tour with ambitions of shining in the mountains and fighting for the GC. His crash changed all that, but he’s hoping the lingering impacts will not be permanent.
“Physically, I am ok. I have no pain. I am becoming strong again on the bike,” he said. “I am a little nervous on the bike, yes, but in the training, I have done 85 kph on the downhill. That was not a problem, but that was when I was alone. Now we are with 150 guys again, so we will have to see.”