We talk a lot about health issues in the professional cycling world – there are the glaring safety concerns regarding barriers, helicopters, road surfaces etc. that have been addressed to no end, especially recently. There is a religious drug testing scheme in place to ban, regulate and outlaw drugs that can cause harm to a rider. Certain riding techniques, such as resting your forearms on the handlebars or sitting on specific parts of the bike frame on a descent are banned, all in the name of rider safety.
What isn’t spoken about anywhere near enough is the mental weight that comes with being a professional athlete and cyclist. An affliction that has swept through the ranks of the peloton, almost undetected, is bulimia, and eating disorders in general. Such an emphasis is placed upon keeping weight down that riders end up going to extreme lengths, in order to establish and maintain their spots in the top teams.
Israel Start-Up Nation rider Davide Cimolai has recently shed light on this widespread issue in an interview with Bici.pro and stated his belief that his obsession with keeping weight down has taken years of his career from him: “Many riders, especially young ones, suffer with eating problems. Unfortunately, the old generation still teaches methodologies that, in my opinion, are wrong… if after five hours of training they give you an apple or fruit, you understand that something is wrong.”
Cimolai says that he is aware of riders that have stopped racing outright due to the effects of eating disorders and proposes that teams should have dedicated staff members in place to assist and advise young riders as they turn professional and attempt to make their way, permanently, into a team and spark a professional career.
Davide Cimolai is not the first professional cyclist to speak out on the issue of eating disorders in the sport. A couple of years ago, Jani Brajkovic received a ten-month ban from racing after he tested positive for the banned substance methylhexanamine. The substance turned out to be an undisclosed ingredient in a meal-replacement product that the athlete had ingested as a result of his suffering from bulimia.
The Slovenian opened up about his battle with the disease in a blog post entitled “Skeletons in the Closet,” in which he explained that his ban did not stem from a desire to gain an edge on the competition, but that, in fact, “It's about a poor relationship with food – disordered eating, which became an eating disorder, bulimia. It happened quickly and, before I knew it, I realised I was not in control anymore. It had me under control, no matter what.”
Brajkovic went on to express his immense frustration with the UCI governing body that had issued him the ban. He had told them about the issues he was having, how he physically could not keep food down and, so, had to turn to alternative methods of nutrition. He continued: “The UCI promised their medical department would contact me. It never happened. They knew we have a problem, the problem that is ruining people's lives, careers, but they don't want to do anything about it… Nada, zero.”
If this issue is as widespread as the few who have come out to speak about it claim, then cycling has a real problem on its hands. Much more, clearly, needs to be done to address this issue. It if often the case that mental issues fall by the wayside when we address illness. Physical ailments are ones we can see but, sometimes, the cuts on the inside are the ones that go a lot deeper. That might sound a bit “My Chemical Romance,” but there you go.