Giannni Meersman will retire from professional cycling after routine tests discovered a cardiac arrhythmia and scar tissue on his heart, according to a statement released today by Fortuneo-Vital Concept, the French team the former Etixx-QuickStep rider had signed with for 2017.
"During a routine medical check-up, a cardiac arrhythmia and scar tissue were found in the 31-year-old Belgian rider," the team explained in Friday's announcement. "Additional tests then confirmed that they would pose a serious danger to his health if he continued to exercise his sport at a high level, which forced him to make a difficult and dramatic decision to stop his career immediately."
Meersman, who won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana in 2016, said in today's announcement that he was devastated when he first got the news several weeks ago.
"In the meantime, I had additional tests and scans, but they confirmed that this health risk would remain if I continued to ride high-level cycling, so the specialists advised me to end my active career," Meersman said. "Compared to my wife and daughter, who put everything aside during my career, I can not and will not take such a risk. Cycling was not only my profession but also my passion, and so it was with great pain that I made this decision."
Meersman started his pro career in 2007 with the Discovery Channel team before moving to Francaise des Jeux for four seasons through 2011. He moved to the Belgian Lotto team for one season in 2012, then spent the past four years with the QuickStep teams. Meersman took 20 wins in his pro career, including stages at the Tour de Georgia, Tour of Austria, Tour de Wallonie, Paris-Nice, Volta Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, Volta ao Algarve and Vuelta a España, among others. He raced the Vuelta five times, the Giro d'Italia twice and the Tour de France once.
Meersman signed with Fortuneo-Vital Concept for 2017 and was a major part of the team's plans for the upcoming season.
"It is of course a blow for the team but it is above all a huge blow for him," said Fortuneo-Vital Concept manager Emmanuel Hubert. "Gianni is an engaging boy and a great rider who quickly joined the team. He will not have the opportunity to wear our jersey and I think I am the first to be sorry.
"I had a long time on the phone yesterday, he was very affected," Hubert said. "Being a high-level sportsman is a special job; you have to know how to listen to your body. Cycling was putting his life in danger, he must not take any risk, it is obvious. I've known Gianni for six months. He's a fighter, he'll bounce back and I'll of course think about what we could do to help him. He had been unanimous in our training, and I wish him the best in the future."
In today's statement from Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Meersman asked the media to respect his privacy as he and his family process his decision.