(Reuters) - Chris Froome made his much-awaited return to the peloton at the UAE Tour on Sunday after recovering from serious injuries he sustained in a high-speed crash last year, saying he was glad he had overcome the struggle to get back to racing.
"It's a great feeling to be back in the bunch and there were so many riders coming up to me and saying it was good to see me back," the four-times Tour de France winner told reporters.
"I showed that it was possible to come back after so long," the 34-year-old Briton added. "It's still a way to go until I'm back to the level I was at but... it felt good to just have a race number on, have my elbows out again and be fighting in the bunch. It feels good to be a bike racer again."
The Team Ineos rider was back in action for the first time since slamming into a wall during a training ride for last year's Criterium du Dauphine which left him in hospital for nearly a month with multiple fractures including a broken right femur and a broken elbow.
He said returning to racing eight months later for the 148-km opening stage in Dubai was a victory in itself.
"It's a big victory to be on the start line and be in the bunch. Two or three months ago I could barely walk, I had a limp. So to be back racing at WorldTour level is a huge victory in itself."
The opening stage was won by German Pascal Ackermann of Bora-Hansgrohe, who started his sprint early to make his way through the crowd. He leads Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Frenchman Rudy Barbier (Israel Start-Up Nation).
"I'm super happy with this victory because almost all the top sprinters are here and I wasn't sure if my shape was good enough to beat them all," Ackermann said.
"It was a really hectic and nervous sprint in which I was jumping from one guy's wheel to another one... When I saw my chance I told myself to go; I took my chance at the right time."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Clare Fallon)