Niko Eeckhout's reputation as one of the toughest men in cycling was enhanced this week after it was revealed he has been competing with a broken vertebra in his past two races.
The An Post-Sean Kelly rider crashed at the GP Pino Cerami on April 8, but has continued to race in spite of severe pain. This week, he started Wednesday's Brabantse Pijl, where he helped form the race-winning break, and Thursday's GP Denain. However, he was forced to withdraw from both events, with scans on Friday revealing the fracture in his back.
"The pain was unbearable," Eeckhout told Sporza. "Every hole in the road caused so much misery on Wednesday and Thursday, and I was forced to pull out of the races. I was despondent, because every time I had good legs. It's all the result of a fall in the GP Cerami early April."
In his 13th season as a professional, Eeckhout, 39, has been a visible presence throughout the Flemish portion of the spring Classics. His attacking mentality has been rewarded with a number of top-ten finishes, and a second place result at Dutch race Ronde van het Groene Hart.
Eeckhout has now been ordered to rest for ten days, with further scans to be carried out before a decision is made on when he will return to racing.
"Niko is not someone who just gives up, so I was already afraid that some day it would be a serious injury," said An Post-Sean Kelly manager Kurt Bogaerts. "He must now rest and then we'll look at things again."