Leif Hoste has announced his retirement from cycling at the age of 35. Three times a second-place finisher at the Tour of Flanders, Hoste’s final season as a professional at Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s was blighted by back problems and he has taken the decision to hang up his wheels.
“Because of the problem with my back, I can’t get back to the level that I want,” Hoste told Het Nieuwsblad. “If I were 23 years old, I’d give it another try, but I’m 35. This may not be the farewell I dreamed of but I don’t want to sit on the sidelines another season.”
After recovering from the head injuries that he sustained in a serious crash at the Three Days of De Panne in 2011, Hoste swapped Katusha for Accent-Willems at the beginning of this season. Following a promising start to the campaign, Hoste began to suffer back pain and he was diagnosed with a degenerative intervertebral disc. Though he wasn’t to realise it at the time, his final race as a professional would be the Ster ZLM Toer in June.
“I felt good a couple of times in the spring, but my problems started at the Tour of Turkey,” he said. “[At ZLM Toer], I began to feel that something was seriously wrong. It was a condition that had come on slowly but the muscles around it had been able to compensate for a while.”
After visiting a number of specialists during the summer, Hoste began to realise that he would have to call time on his career, although he did receive interest from Liquigas-Cannondale, who were looking for a classics mentor for Peter Sagan.
“They saw me as the ideal man to ride with Peter Sagan in the spring classics,” Hoste said. “But my back problem wasn’t solved and a team can’t wait forever. Finding a place in a team where I could fix my back problem wasn’t easy.”
Winner of the Three Days of De Panne in 2006 and three times national time trial champion, Hoste is well aware that he will be best remembered for his unfortunate hat-trick of second-place finishes at the Tour of Flanders. On three occasions, Hoste reached Meerbeke in the winning break, and on three occasions, he was out-sprinted into second place, by Steffen Wesemann in 2004, Tom Boonen in 2006 and Alessandro Ballan in 2007.
“I don’t have a bad feeling about it, even if I would have preferred to have caught the big fish,” Hoste said. “I know I’m not Gilbert or Boonen, but my level was just below that. I was second in the De Ronde three times and I think a lot of people would trade with me. For Boonen or Cavendish, only winning counts, but second was important for me. You should also remember that I didn’t ride De Ronde until I was 25, and I usually rode for others in the spring. So really, I’m at peace with my career."
Hoste began his thirteen-year professional career at Mapei, and also raced for Domo, Lotto and Johan Bruyneel's Discovery Channel team, but De Ronde was the centrepiece of his season almost throughout.
“The third time I came second, behind Ballan, was my best chance. In 2006, with Boonen, I could have been a bit more courageous on the Muur. But maybe that’s the difference between someone who wins races and who doesn’t.”