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Heart condition forces Lotto rider Kaisen to retire at 30

  • By Brian Holcombe
  • Published Feb. 10, 2014
Olivier Kaisen was forced to withdraw from the Santos Tour Down Under in January and announced his retirement Monday. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Doctors have called an early end to Belgian Olivier Kaisen’s cycling career, his Lotto-Belisol team announced Monday. Kaisen, 30, has been found to have a cardiac aberration, which affected him during the Santos Tour Down Under last month.

Kaisen’s abnormal heartbeat was uncovered during tests in November, but he continued on with Lotto, making his season debut in Australia in January. A subsequent examination determined that the Belgian was not fit for professional competition.

“Last Friday I got the news I feared was coming up: I have to quit cycling,” Kaisen said via press release. “Of course I had rather seen it differently, but keep on cycling isn’t an option. After the UCI tests, half of November I was actually surprised when I heard an aberration was found, because I had never felt anything before, but luckily I got the permission to continue with cycling. At training camp in December I was able to train in perfect circumstances without any problem. Now I think my moderate season in 2013 might be caused by it.

“After the second stage at the Tour Down Under I didn’t feel well. It had been a very tiring and extremely hot day and I had ridden much at the head of the bunch for André Greipel. I did start the next stage, but immediately after the start of the third stage I felt something was wrong. I was scared and together with sports director Herman Frison I decided to quit. He said I couldn’t take any risk.”

Kaisen returned to Belgium and underwent continuous monitoring for four days. Lotto team doctor Jan Mathieu said the results clearly indicated that Kaisen could no longer continue safely in the sport.

“Each year the riders have to undergo a cardiologic examination which is made obligatory by the UCI,” said Mathieu. “In a very burdening sport as cycling that isn’t superfluous. For this we work together with the team of cardiologist Sophie Demanez and the CHC hospital in Liège. The test of Olivier half of November showed an aberration of the cardiac rhythm. Further examination by heart specialists doctor Demanez and professor Heidbuchel made clear that this wasn’t an impediment for top sport. When Olivier had hinder again in the Tour Down Under half of January — of a different nature than before — also that problem was further examined and analyzed. The results and conclusions didn’t leave any room for doubts: keep on cycling isn’t an option.”

Lotto manager Marc Sergeant said Kaisen’s health trumped the sporting implications of his diagnosis.

“This makes you put the sportive results in perspective and of course as a manager you rather not have to experience this,” he said. “Health problems are disastrous for a sportsman, but at the moment when it’s life-threatening, sport is of secondary importance and only the human side counts. ‘Oli’ has been in our team for eight years and that’s why the mutual involvement is big. On the other hand, I’m also happy that these kind of tests are obligatory. At Lotto-Belisol we even go further and within our scientific approach our riders undergo an elaborate package of tests that have to enable us to detect possible problems of all kinds in an early stage.

“Furthermore, I think this should be a plea for screening of both pro and amateur sportspeople. As a WorldTour team, we should set an example and spread the message that not any risk is worth a human life. We carry a big responsibility and have to take on that fight. In the name of myself, all staff members and all riders I deeply want to thank ‘Oli’ for all generous efforts as part of the team, for his numerous kilometers at the head of the bunch, for his personality and character within the team. We will do our best to assist him as good as possible during the next weeks and months and if possible to build the bridge to the next part of his life.”

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Brian Holcombe

Brian Holcombe

Brian Holcombe is the editor of VeloNews.com. Holcombe joined VeloNews in 2009 following years spent introducing students to whitewater kayaking and working in avalanche control, among other more risky ventures. A Master of PR and Marketing Communications, his graduate work at the University of Denver focused on innovation, digital media management and custom publishing. Holcombe is a CSU Ram fan and proud parent, and has been accused of attacking too much on the VN lunch ride. Follow him on Twitter @FCBrian.

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