SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — Sidelined from racing for six months following a crash in the 2013 Tour de France, Jurgen Van den Broeck returned to the sport this week in Argentina.
“Now, everything’s going better than expected,” the Lotto-Belisol rider told VeloNews, looking down at the scars on his right knee. “I’m happy to be here with the base condition that I have.”
The lanky Belgian time trial specialist rested his elbows on his knees, sweat running down his face and onto his red Lotto kit, after finishing 13th in the stage-5 ITT at the Tour de San Luis. He ranks 22nd overall, which is what he expected after so much time at home.
On Thursday, on the mountaintop finish to Alto El Amago, Van den Broeck couldn’t follow the Colombians’ accelerations. He withstood the first couple of punches, but the third was too much.
“I don’t believe in miracles,” he said. “I haven’t raced in six months so it’s normal that I can’t go with the best up hills.”
Van den Broeck crashed in the finish of the fifth stage of the Tour de France to Marseille last July 4. His knee sustained damage to ligaments and bone, and doctors waited a week to operate, fearing infection if they intervened too soon. Afterward, Van Den Brouck was on the couch for four weeks.
“I had to watch the Tour de France,” he said. “There was nothing else on TV!”
Van den Broeck has placed fourth overall twice in the Tour, in 2012 and 2010. Belgium hopes he can bring it its first Tour de France win since Lucien Van Impe in 1976. But he remains realistic about his chances.
“I don’t know if I’m a big favorite,” he said. “I only ever won one race so now I want to win a race. I want to have a good performance and then I’ll try again as high as possible in the Tour.”
Van den Broeck may have a mental edge on his rivals by feeling fresh. With the break, he turned his attention to specific exercises and stopped drinking beer.
“Normally it’s not a problem if you drink alcohol in the winter, it’s normal,” he said. “I was just afraid that if I had one or two I could’ve felt light-headed, stepped wrongly and hit my knee. I was afraid to injure my knee again.”
Instead, he focused on details. The doctors wanted him to strengthen the muscles around his knee and elsewhere, so he worked on core stability four to five hours a day. He said it made his back and everything else stronger.
After a check in November and a green light, he began training at full speed in Spain and at home in Belgium. He traveled to Argentina early to prepare for the blistering heat and the task ahead: the Tour de France.
“I’m mentally fresh,” Van de Broeck said. “I wanted to get back on my bike and return to racing.”