Home Sports Cycling-Mental health a growing concern within the peloton

Cycling-Mental health a growing concern within the peloton


By Julien Pretot

CARCASSONNE, France (Reuters) – Theo Nonnez went for a training ride in the rain two days before Christmas last year. Half an hour later, the 21-year-old sobbed on his bike as his world tumbled around him.

The Groupama-FDJ reserve rider had just realized he could no longer put up with the mental charge of being a professional cyclist. “I was wondering which goals I could have in life, what I was doing on this earth,” Nonnez told Reuters.

His parents, the team’s doctor, sports psychologist Jacky Maillot, and Jean-Luc Tournier helped him “put words” to his distress. “In cycling, you can’t show your weaknesses, especially if you’re a rider from the reserve team, because if you admit that you’re struggling with motivation, someone will take your spot,” Donnez explained.

Delphine Cartier, who worked with French team Cofidis as a mental coach, told Reuters the need to find a new contract every couple of years and that professional Cycling is “such a men’s world” makes it hard for riders to admit failure. “I’ve worked with tennis players, for instance. They don’t play for their contract so often,” she said.


Donnez is not the only professional rider to break down. In April, Nonnez quit cycling for good but says he still cannot ride a bike “unless it takes my fixie to go shopping. “I’m not out of the woods yet, but I feel I’m not far from being happy,” said Nunez, who has taken up communications studies and works as a community manager for Groupama-FDJ.

Before him, 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin took a break from Cycling for over three months, while former British champion Peter Kennaugh said in 2019 that he was interrupting his career, citing mental health reasons.

The rapid increase in the demands of life as a professional cyclist – from weight obsession to repeated altitude training amounting to two months a year for some – has put tremendous pressure on riders.

Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome believes the pressure is also from social media. “There’s a lot of cases around the peloton, if you look around, of riders struggling with mental health issues,” Froome told Reuters.


“With the world becoming so much more online and social media becoming such a big part of the media presence today, I think many younger guys who probably aren’t used to being in the limelight haven’t learned to deal with potential criticism.

“Just one example, I found it incredible the amount of pressure and scrutiny that has been put on to (Belgian prospect) Remco Evenepoel coming back from his injury… he hadn’t raced for over half a year, and the Giro was his first race back, and everybody expected him to win it.”

The 20-year-old Evenepoel’s debut on the Tour de France has been delayed, and he will not take part in the world’s most fantastic cycling race next year, his Deceuninck-Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere said this month.

Froome has dealt with high expectations, which came later in his career. “Fortunately for me, it’s nothing new. I’ve dealt with criticism over the years, and it doesn’t bother me anymore what people say, but for people new to it, it can drive them out of the sport,” he said.

The older generation believes Cycling has always been a demanding sport, maybe even harder an age back. A former rider and ex-sports director, who spoke anonymously, told Reuters: “Cycling is just now doing what other sports have been doing, optimizing every detail.

“Then there was a shortcut, which was doping. But riders would have 120 days of racing a year while now it’s about 60.” “Back in the day, it was sinking or swimming,” he added. He also believes it is now easier for riders to open up about their problems.

“But at the end of the day, it’s down to the same equation: those who win or survive are the ones who deal with everything the best, those who find the right balance.” (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)


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