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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — After concerns that he would be ruled out of the classics altogether, Tim Declercq made a welcome return to the bunch Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Declercq, one of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s most important domestiques, has been on the sidelines since February after being diagnosed with an inflammation of the lining of his heart — a condition known as pericarditis.
The team, and Declercq, thought that he would be out of action for the whole spring but he recovered quicker than expected and was parachuted in for Dwars door Vlaanderen.
“I’m excited. It’s nice to be here when I didn’t expect it, now it’s about what the feeling will be like, and then we will know a little bit more,” Declercq told VeloNews ahead of the start in Roeselare.
“I did a better than expected 15-minute test in Mallorca, and I felt quite ok and they saw in my values that I was recovering well from the training. Of course, I’m not 100 percent so we will have to see if it’s 80 percent or 90. That we will have to see.”
The 33-year-old developed the pericarditis after contracting COVID-19 following the Saudi Tour, along with a large number of other riders. While he was able to start the Volta ao Algarve just 10 days after his infection, he developed chest pains and shortness of breath following the opening stage and would not start the next day.
He has been out of action since then, forced to watch his team ride on without him. It was tough to watch for the sidelines, but it also made him determined to get back into the bunch as soon as possible.
“It has been quite hard, of course, to see it on TV but then I got the motivation back and I started training again,” he said.
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) March 29, 2022
Declercq picked a difficult race to make his return to the peloton with the major action starting when more than half the route remained. It proved to be a challenging race for the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team after it missed the race-winning move and had to settle for 14th with Jannik Steimle the best-placed rider.
While the results weren’t great for the team, finishing the race was a good personal step for Declercq.
“If you had asked me about that when they were going flat out at 100 kilometers from the finish then the answer might have been different,” Declercq said when asked if he enjoyed his comeback. “I’m content to be back in the peloton. It hurt a lot but that was to be expected though.
“My basis is good, but I can’t deal with the peaks. On the climbs, you’ve got to be able to push 500 watts and more otherwise you’re in the hurt box. That was briefly possible, but I had to shift back. I had to let go of the peloton earlier than usual and that was no surprise.”
More encouragingly for Declercq, he did not experience any issues with his heart during or after the race.
“My heart was ok. My form is behind which is obvious when you’re three weeks off the bike in the middle of the build-up. It will not be possible to get back to 100 percent, but hopefully, every race will go better,” he said.
Declercq has been named for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Tour of Flanders team, which will be led by defending champion Kasper Asgreen.