The Rouleur Longreads Podcast: Heartbroken – The silent killer in the peloton

“My world collapsed. I wasn’t a cyclist anymore. From one moment to another, I lost not only my job, but also what I like to do. They took away a part of my personality. There was a lot of crying in the time after.”

A professional cyclist’s heart is trained to be as big and strong as possible, allowing it to pump massive amounts of blood and oxygen around the body. Most cyclists have a ticker 50 per cent bigger than that of a regular person. Miguel Indurain possessed a superhuman resting heart rate of around 30 beats per minute; a normal, well-trained adult heart has one of 72.

But, in pushing themselves to the extreme, they are in danger of developing arrhythmia.

Two months prior to the 2016 Tour of Oman, doctors had found a life-threatening arrhythmia in Johan Vansummeren’s heart. He had been through dozens of checks and was equipped with a heart monitor during the Middle Eastern race.

Vansummeren’s legs felt worse than ever, and momentarily cramped while going up a steep climb.

His cardiologists back in Belgium had seen the exact moment his legs cramped, and it correlated with a spike in his heartbeat. They called him.

Aware of the initial tests, the AG2R doctors banned Vansummeren from finishing the race. Hours later, Vansummeren was on his way back to Lommel, where he was born and still lives, transformed from a healthy elite athlete to a man with a life-threatening heart arrhythmia. The Tour of Oman would be his last race as a professional cyclist.

The Rouleur Longreads Podcast brings you selected long form articles from the magazine, especially recorded for Rouleur. Don’t stop what you’re doing – do it while listening to the world’s best cycling writing.

The third in this series is ‘Heartbroken’ by Emil Helweg Foget and Ole Obitsø, from Rouleur 20.2. Read by George Oliver.

WARNING: This episode contains strong language from the outset

More from the Rouleur Longreads Podcast:

The Rise of Gravel by Hugo Gladstone
Notes on Belgium by Morten Okbo

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