CARCASSONNE, France, July 9 (Reuters) – Two days before Christmas last year, ThÃ©o Nonner trained in the rain. Half an hour later, the 21-year-old was sobbing on his bike as his world crumbled around him.
The Groupama-FDJ reserve rider had just realized that he could no longer bear the mental load of being a professional cyclist.
“I wondered what goals I could have in life, what I was doing on this earth,” Nonner told Reuters.
His parents and his team’s sports doctor and psychologist, Jacky Maillot and Jean-Luc Tournier, helped him “put words” to his distress.
“In cycling you cannot show your weaknesses and especially if you are a rider from the reserve team, because if you admit that you are struggling with motivation, someone will take your place,” explained Nnon.
Delphine Cartier, who has worked with the French team Cofidis as a mental coach, told Reuters the need to find a new contract every two years, and the fact that professional cycling is “such a man’s world. “, makes it difficult for runners to admit failure. .
“I’ve worked with tennis players for example. They don’t play for their contract that often,” she said.
In April, Nonner quit cycling for good but says he still can’t ride a bike, “unless it’s to take my fixie shopping.
“I am not out of the woods yet but I feel that I am not far from happy,” said Nonner, who has studied communication and works as a community manager for Groupama-FDJ.
Nun isn’t the only professional rider to break down.
Before him, 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin took a more than three-month break from cycling, while former British champion Peter Kennaugh said in 2019 he was interrupting his career, citing mental health reasons.
The rapid increase in the demands of professional cyclist life – from weight obsession to repeated altitude training for up to two months a year for some – has put enormous strain on cyclists.
Chris Froome, four-time Tour de France champion, believes the pressure is also coming from social media.
“There are a lot of cases in the peloton, if you look around, of runners struggling with mental health issues,” Froome told Reuters.
COLOR OR SWIM
âWith the world increasingly online and social media becoming such a big part of the media presence these days, I think a lot of young guys who are probably not used to being in the limelight don’t haven’t really learned to deal with potential criticism.
âJust one example, I found the pressure and the scrutiny that was put on (Belgian hopeful) Remco Evenepoel coming back from his injury unbelievableâ¦ he hadn’t raced in over six months and the Giro was his first comeback race and everyone expected him to win it. “
20-year-old Evenepoel’s debut on the Tour de France has been delayed and he will miss out on the world’s biggest cycling race next year, Deceuninck-Quick Step boss Patrick said this month. Lefevere.
Froome faced high expectations, but they came later in his career.
âLucky for me this is nothing new. I have faced criticism over the years and I don’t mind what people say anymore, but for newcomers it can kick them out of the sport,â he said. he declared. .
The older generation thinks that cycling has always been a difficult sport, perhaps even more difficult a generation ago.
A former rider and former sports director, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: âCycling is doing what other sports have done, optimizing every detail.
“Then there was a shortcut, which was doping. But the runners would have 120 racing days a year whereas now it’s around 60.”
He also believes that it is now easier for runners to talk about their problems.
“At the time, it was sink or swim,” he added.
“But at the end of the day, it’s the same equation: those who win or survive are the ones who manage it best, the ones who find the right balance.”
Report by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris
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