Meersman returns to cycling as director of Marlux-Napoleon Games

Belgian getting his first taste of managing cyclo-cross after forced retirement from racing

Belgian Gianni Meersman was forced into early retirement as a professional rider last year, but returned to the sport this week as the newest directeur sportif for the Marlux-Napoleon Games team.

The 31-year-old had signed with Fortuneo-Vital Concept last year, but announced he would retire last winter after being diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia. He joins the cyclo-cross specialist team as a replacement for Danny De Bie. Although Meersman's experience in 'cross is limited, he will work closely alongside Mario De Clercq to build a successful programme.

According to Sporza, Meersman said during the team press conference announcing his arrival that he was "very happy to receive a big chance", and said, "I am looking forward to starting and being able to bring my experience."

Meersman passed the UCI examination for directors in July, but said he had trouble finding a job at a road team. "I received several proposals, but nothing more concrete afterwards."

General manager Jurgen Mettepenningen approached Meersman about the position, much to his surprise. "It made me a little scared too, but I'm not someone with doubts. This is a huge opportunity. I know that I do not have the cyclo-cross experience, but with Mario De Clercq we will be a good pair."

The team has two of the top 10 ranked riders in elite men's cyclo-cross: Kevin Pauwels, 34, and Michael Vanthourenhout, 25, as well as veteran Klaas Vantornout, Diether Vanthourenhout, former U23 world champion Eli Iserbyt and promising elite women's racer Laura Verdonschot, 22 among its 13-rider roster.

Meersman said he liked the idea of a smaller team where he would have more contact with each rider. "It's not a road team with 28, 29 guys or even more. I am enthusiastic and I want to motivate the guys. A motivated rider is better. They should benefit. OK, it's not easy against Mathieu (van der Poel) or Wout (van Aert), but we have to stay ambitious. They are not invincible either."

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