Will Walker has announced that following a recurrence of his heart problems during his first race of 2014 year and first for his new Synergy Baku Cycling Project at the Australian National Championships, that he is to end his professional cycling career.
The 28-year-old had skipped both the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to tachycardia and was looking to kick-start his career with the Azeri squad. His replacement on the team will be 23-year-old Irishman Philip Lavery. It is likely that Walker will stay associated with the Baku set-up, in a back room capacity as coaching staff with his official role yet to be determined.
Lavery has ridden for two other Continental ranked teams and serving as a stagiaire for the Cofidis Team last year but was not offered a contract. Assuming his career was over, he sold his bikes and took a full-time job. Lavery is now set to make his debut for Baku on February 23 at the GP Izola in Slovenia.
Team manager David McQuaid explained how Lavery was chosen on the team's website. "Initially when the place become vacant, we looked to the Azerbaijan Federation or riders from the regions" said McQuaid. "However, when putting our 2014 squad together we purposely listed three young Azeri riders as Baku Trainees in order to assist and nurture their development and then coming on board as stagiaires on August 1st.
"Given the nature of our early season races in both Asia and particularly Europe it was still felt that this was the correct approach."
While Walker's heat problems threw a spanner in the works for the team, McQuaid said that the Australian's place within the team set-up was never under question.
"In Will's case or scenario he was never under pressure from us regarding his immediate future and I had the chance to sit with him face to face at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour for a good talk.
"We will figure something out, I firmly believe that and Will firmly believes that. Right now that is all Will needs going into and during a period of some pretty complex heart surgery."
With his heartbeat reaching 270 beats per minute during the Australian nationals in early-January, Walker explained that was enough for him to make his decision and retire for good. "The ventricular tachycardia I encountered at the national championship was enough for me to instantly decide that I was not ever going to race again," Walker said.
"I had a clean bill of health while riding for Drapac the last two years, apart from a light episode at the Tour of the Great South Coast, and looked to be staying comfortably on top of it.
"However on the day of the road race, I knew something was not right, but I pushed through it, I had worked hard, was in great shape and had made a good split in the race that would have put me into a great position to gain a result.
"Pushing through in hindsight was not a wise move and the result of that was sustained ventricular tachycardia for nearly an hour at 270 beats, and by far the worst episode I have ever had."
Walker has undergone surgery in the last few days to correct further complications which have come up. "I had a procedure to get an icd (implantable cardioverter defibrillator), that has pacemaker functions. I am now on beta blockers," he said.
Once recovered from this surgery, a decision will be made concerning his future although Walker, like McQuaid, is keen to remain with the team.
"Into the future, my intensions are to stay involved with the Synergy Baku cycling team, however in what capacity is still to be discussed. Seeing a project grow, from ground up will naturally be a very exciting process and I hope I will be able to have some great input into mentoring and looking after the upcoming riders," Walker said.
In recalling the highlights of his career, Walker indicated there are several wins and races that he cherishes and can retire pleased with his time racing.
"Looking back at my career, I am extremely satisfied with my results. My Elite and Under 23 Australian championship at the same time is the highlight, but so too are my second in the Under 23 Worlds in Madrid in 2006, the two Grand Tours I rode, the Commonwealth games and the World Championships I competed in.
"Working with Aldo Sassi was an absolute honour and something I will cherish for the rest of my life! He was not just a great coach but an amazing person, and I truly learned a lot about life from him. I think he would be very happy to see that I have decided to stop racing again so that I can concentrate on looking after his daughter, to whom I am engaged."