One year ago, Edward Theuns was flat on his back, constrained mostly to his bed. It was beginnings of what would be a long road to recovery from a fractured vertebra he sustained in a crash at the 2016 Tour de France.
Although Theuns returned to racing this season, he was still not completely pain-free and underwent surgery after the spring classics in late April to remove the hardware still in his spine. It was another few weeks to recover, and once again, more hard work to return to his top race form.
In stage four at the Binckbank Tour, Theuns put closure on his near-career ending injury for good, winning his first race since his horrible crash, and his first WorldTour victory of his career.
Victory is always sweet, but for Theuns on Thursday, it was that much sweeter.
"It's a big relief, I am really happy," said an elated Theuns. "I had a real rough time since I crashed in the Tour last year and I worked really hard to come back. After the spring classics, I again had surgery to take out the pins in my back, and since that surgery, I feel that I am getting stronger every week. I had a great training camp at altitude during the Tour, and now it pays off."
Theuns sprinted to second place in Wednesday's stage three, giving him and the team heightened confidence and morale to play for the win again.
"After yesterday, I really believed in it, and the team believed in it. Already yesterday we were really riding together as a group, and it was close, and today we tried again. Yesterday after the stage Dirk (Demol, director) said tomorrow we go again for it, and in the end, it all turned out perfect," he added.
A late attack by Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) almost spoiled the impeccable team work, but Boy van Poppel and Jasper Stuyven uncannily timed the catch at less than 200 meters to go, and Theuns finished off the perfect lead out.
"With 200 meters to go, I thought, 'Crap! Edward is going to win the sprint, but it's going to be again second!'" said team director Dirk Demol. "It was a great effort by Jasper at the end, and Boy did a really good job to bring Jasper and Edward there. But I must also say that Marco (Coledan) worked hard in the first 130kms, and that was more than important, he worked for the whole team there, and Gregy (Rast) – the whole team played a part in the win today."
While Demol was cringing at the possibility of another second, Theuns was oblivious.
"Dirk told us in the radio that Lampaert had a pretty good gap, but in the last kilometers to just focus on good positioning and sprinting so I wasn't really looking at the situation. In the end, the gap opened on the right moment and Boy could go to the front with me and Jasper," said Theuns.
"When I started the sprint, I was able to go a little bit to Lampaert's wheel, and it gave me a better slipstream, which was perfect for me. The leadout was really good, and I am super happy to give a reward to the whole team, for the hard work they do.
The whole team participated on the victory today, and I know Edward would say the same – this was a victory of the team.
"Boy and Jasper were in front of me in the last kilometer, and before this, the guys did an amazing job to keep us in the front. (Marco) Coledan did the whole race almost in the wind to keep us in the front, and Mads (Pedersen) was going well and coming back all the time. It was a real big team effort today," Theuns added.
Director Dirk Demol agreed, heaping praise on the concerted effort, pointing out that it was a win for the whole team today.
"The whole team participated on the victory today, and I know Edward would say the same – this was a victory of the team. When you see Jasper just behind celebrating Edward's win – I love it!" he smiled.