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PORT-EN-BESSIN-HUPPAIN, France (AFP) – John Degenkolb said he was feeling relaxed as the German prepared to tackle the Tour de France just five months after a horror crash that could have ended his life, let alone his career.
The 27-year-old was one of six Giant – Alpecin riders involved in a head-on crash with a car while training in Spain in January.
Degenkolb suffered injuries to his thighs, forearm, and lips, and he came close to losing a finger. He missed the whole of the spring classics season, denying him the opportunity to defend the prestigious Paris-Roubaix and Milano-San Remo titles he’d won in 2015.
But after making his return to racing last month, the German one-day specialist is raring to go.
“Happiness is really a very important expression when it comes to [how I’m feeling] because the accident was huge, and I had to do the biggest break of my career and rehabilitation,” said Degenkolb from the Giant team hotel in Normandy.
“I was never injured like that. I think I was two or three weeks in hospital. That’s a pretty hard time — that was the hardest part, when you don’t know what’s going on, what’s the schedule, when you’ll be back on track, when you’ll train again, when you’ll race again.
“We said we wanted to try to make it to the Tour de France, now finally I’m in the selection — it’s a great feeling! The plan worked out, I’m very happy about that.”
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It hasn’t been easy to overcome the scars from his crash — his left forearm retains a huge, pink, jagged reminder of the accident, but Degenkolb says he’s coped with it. “I remember everything from the accident basically but … I’m just over it, I have no problems with it anymore. For me it’s the past and now I can concentrate on what’s coming in the future.”
But given his lack of racing this year, Degenkolb, who is also an able sprinter, insists there is less pressure on him in this year’s race, where Giant also has high hopes in the overall standings for young Frenchman Warren Barguil.
Degenkolb will be expected only to challenge for stage victories on lumpy sprint stages that suit him more than the pure sprinters, such as former teammate and fellow German Marcel Kittel.
“I didn’t lose my mentality; it changed a bit my perspective of how I looked on things in life,” he said of his crash.
“I think I’m just a bit more relaxed, I’m enjoying more what I’m doing because it’s a big privilege to be a professional cyclist, and I have the right to ride the Tour de France.
“Before they put me in this role and I have to do it, [but] now I’m just trying to enjoy it more — I am enjoying it — it’s really nice and I’m looking forward to it.”