Lietaer (Wallonie Bruxelles) finished one minute and 25 seconds in arrears of overall winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) in an understated but decided comeback from a traumatic 2018 season.
The 28-year-old endured three separate injuries last year, each more distressing than the last. A buttock complaint was comparatively an easy fix after Lietaer suffered from a ruptured retina in a crash, only to leave the hospital in a poorer condition.
“For me, 2018 was a horrible year because I had three surgeries and a broken back. I had some troubles with my eye, so I went to the hospital and got surgery. The day after the nurses woke me up, I went to the toilet and there I lost consciousness, fell and broke my back. It was not a bike incident, it was a really stupid accident. The consequences were really bad,” he said.
“I was out of competition from the beginning of March until August, was in bed resting for almost two months and then afterwards lots of physio.”
In Oman, the ambitious 28-year-old was consistent across the three stages that suited hardy puncheurs if not climbers, all of which Lutsenko won, with his best result sixth on the first uphill finish at Qurayyat and 13th on Green Mountain.
“I’m very glad I’m performing well here. I worked really hard this winter, I put in a lot of effort, long hours, intensive parts. It was really the goal to be good in the beginning of the season,” he said.
Lietaer’s support network helped turn what could have been a tragic tale of not walking or racing again, into triumph.
“I was really lucky because the consequences could be even worse, but I love riding my bike,” he said. “I had a lot of support from the team, it was incredible. They were in touch with me every day, motivating me to come back. That gave me a lot of strength to work hard, come back this season and try to do well for them, for myself, family and friends. That was my motivation to come back.”
Lietaer opened his 2019 campaign at the GP La Marseillaise earlier this month and arrived in Oman on the back of a 10th place finish at Etoile de Besseges. Last year he returned to competition in August at the Tour of Portugal and rounded out the season at the Tour of Turkey in October.
“I still rode some races in 2018 but I never got to the same level, like I used to be,” he said.
Lietaer has a simple objective with his Professional Continental outfit this year and is due to compete in a combination of small and big races including the Flemish classics.
“It’s all about winning,” he said. “I really would love to win some races. It’s not that easy, winning races, there is a lot of hard competitors. But this is really the goal, to perform well, be there as a leader for the team and try to get some victories. I would be happy if I could manage to do that.”