Veteran cyclo-cross rider Bart Wellens has announced his retirement, saying that ‘my age and my body have told me that it's time to stop."
The 36 year-old Belgian has spent the last 12 years of his career with the Telenet Fidea team. He was world champion in 2003 and 2004 after being Under 23 world champion in 1999 and 2000. He also won two editions of the World Cup in 2002 and 2003 and the Superprestige series in 2003 and 2004. His last victory was at the 2011 GP Rouwmoer in Essen. He has struggled to finish in the top ten in major races this season as new generation of riders emerged lead by 19 year-old Mathieu van der Poel.
Wellens has also been caught up in the on-going investigation into Dr Chris Mertens, along with teammate Tom Meeusen and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). Dr. Mertens is suspected of providing ozone therapy to a list of patients that could include up to 19 athletes. Ozone therapy is a treatment where blood extracted and infused with ozone before being injected back into the body. The treatment, despite no proof that it boosts performance, is banned under the WADA code. Wellens is to set to appear on March 13 along with Meeusen and Van Avermaet at the disciplinary committee hearing of the Belgian federation.
"Cross takes a heavy toll on the body and the older you get, the harder it is to deal with it and to continue to perform at the highest level," Sporza reported Wellens as saying. "My age and my body have told me that it's time to stop."
"There is a young generation that is ready to dominate 'cross in the years to come. It is increasingly difficult for me to live up there with them, so I realize that the time has come for me to make room.”
Friday’s disciplinary hearing could have profound affect on Wellens’ career but he claimed he has yet to make plans for the future.
"The future? I have not had time to think about that. First and foremost, I want to let things sink in. I will consider some proposals and then make an informed decision about my future," he said.