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Pieters crashed during a training ride with the Dutch national squad in Spain last December. She has been in a coma since, though she was transferred from a Spanish hospital to her native Netherlands in early January.
For her teammates, the recent SD Worx team presentation was a happy moment, but it was tinged with sadness that she wasn’t there. The 2021 season recap video featured Pieters winning as recently as last October but she won’t be racing in 2022 as she continues her recovery.
“You see us laughing and being happy, but we think about her every moment,” Chantal van den Broek-Blaak told VeloNews. “There are also sad moments. So [the presentation] was for me again, a situation I thought ‘I really miss her.’ I have the feeling she can walk in any moment still.”
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Team manager Danny Stam provided an update on Pieters at last week’s team presentation, where he said that the Dutch rider was “breathing independently” but she was not conscious.
Pieters had been with the SD Worx team on a training camp shortly before meeting up with her national teammates. The riders have met twice since for a further training camp and the team presentation.
The first reunion was a hugely emotional affair, and while there are still very difficult moments, the riders have been helping each other through.
“Not so long after her crash, we came together in Spain, and we started training together. The first few days were super hard, because you are very emotional and talking about it,” van den Broek-Blaak said. “But because we had each other, we felt better, and sometimes we just didn’t say anything about it, but we could feel when we are thinking about it.
“In the beginning, we had the feeling we were not allowed to laugh or something but slowly during the team camp, you can feel the atmosphere was getting better. Everyone got back on track and started training better. Because we are all in the same situation, it feels like we are doing this together. When we left from that camp, everyone was back on track with the same goal in the head, we make the best out of it, and we do it also for her.”
Though she will not be with them physically, Pieters will still be with the team in their hearts and thoughts. Their racing will be with her in mind and van den Broek-Blaak wanted to send her a message.
“I want to say keep fighting. She is such a fighter and this is also the reason she came this far,” she said. “So, I just want to say we think about you, we send you some power some lights. Keep fighting. Don’t give up, because this is how she is.”
Van den Broek-Blaak and her teammates are remaining positive that they will get to see Pieters again soon, full of life as she usually is.
Pieter’s recovery prognosis will only be known when doctors are finally able to reawaken her and so it is unclear just how long it will take. For now, they are holding only to the good memories of her when they last saw her in early December.
“When it happened, she was not with us and so we remember her like she was at the last camp because she was there and we were training together,” said van den Broek-Blaak. “We had a super nice camp and she was laughing all the time. This is what we remember. Then we all went home, and she didn’t go home and she went to the national team. So, it’s for us. It’s also nice that our last memories with her are happy and we want her back.”
The SD Worx team will start its 2022 campaign at Omloop Het Niewsblad later this month. They will do so without Pieters, a former winner at the Belgian one-day race.
Racing without her will be a difficult and unusual experience for her teammates but it has also proved a bonding experience. There are likely to be some sad moments along the way and everyone will cope with it in their own way, but van den Broek-Blaak says that the riders will be there for each other whatever.
“It’s not the way how you want it but it kind of makes you feel stronger together,” she said. “It actually what depends at the moment and sometimes someone is crying, and another moment someone else is really sad. You have to accept each other how you are, and you also accept differences. Some girls didn’t talk in the beginning there were others who didn’t cry, and some others were crying a lot. It is how it is, and how you react.”