Belgian sprinter Edward Theuns in his race return from a broken back fearlessly navigated his way through a rough and crash-marred bunch sprint at the Tour Down Under yesterday.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
20 Jan 2017 - 10:58 AM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2017 - 10:59 AM

Adrenaline consumed pain and nerves as the 25-year-old hit the front with his Trek-Segafredo team within the final three kilometres, ultimately placing fifth behind winner Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott).

“I couldn’t really push through with my sprint because I was a bit boxed in but the team is doing a great lead-out and I hope I can reward them with something more than a fifth place,” he said.

Theuns’s tenacity to even have been in what was a clear fight for position was impressive. The promising fast-man has returned to racing at Down Under, six months after he fractured his T12 vertebra in a downhill crash in the stage 13 time trial of the Tour de France.

Theuns required surgery days after the horror fall, where he landed on his back in a ditch, and wore a brace for three months, spending up to five days a week in physiotherapy as part of the recovery.

“During the race sometimes I’m thinking about it, and I’m a bit scared on the downhills, in the quiet moments,” he admitted. “But I manage to get to the finish. In the sprint, you have so much adrenaline that you don’t think about it.”

Stage four of the Tour Down Under today from Norwood to Campbelltown today is undulating and may provide the sprinters, if not opportunists with another shot at line honours. Theuns has been in the mix of every sprint of the race so far, finishing fifth in the People’s Choice Classic prelude criterium, and eighth in the opening stage, both of which Ewan also won.

“I still have some pain. After the climbing stage [to Paracombe on Wednesday] I really felt it in my back because we need to put more power there,” he said. “It’s most of the time after the stages I start feeling it, during the stages I don’t have a lot of problems. It gets a bit sore but it’s okay during the stage. Most of the pain comes afterwards.”

Beyond Adelaide, the classics will again be a focus. Theuns in his first WorldTour season showed an aptitude there last year with results including a fourth-place finish at Scheldeprijs behind winner Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal).

“Of course, I go for stages. I know it’s hard with Caleb Ewan and some other fast guys but we keep on trying. We’re improving every day.

"[Yesterday] was a great lead-out, we just had a bit of bad luck and maybe I’m a little bit slower than some of the other guys,” Theuns said. “But for the rest of the season I want to be there in the classics with the team and hope to have some wins in the classic period.”