Two-time World Champion Bart Wellens officially hung up his wheels Sunday at the Superprestige Ruddervoorde with a ceremonial ride and a final podium celebration. The 36-year-old announced his retirement from the sport in March of this year following the 2014-15 season, but Sunday's ceremony allowed him one final send-off in front of a race crowd.
Wellens won the Superprestige series in 2003 and 2004, taking three victories at Ruddervoorde in 2001, 2003 and 2005. He was also the U23 World Champion in 1999 and 2000 and won two editions of the World Cup in 2002 and 2003. His last win came at the 2011 GP Rouwmoer in Essen. Before he retired, Wellens was named among 19 athletes linked to a two-year investigation into the activities of Dr. Chris Mertens, who was suspected of providing banned ozone therapy. Wellens was later acquitted in that case.
Sunday's celebration during the third round of the Superprestige series allowed Wellens to literally hang up his bike in front of his supporters after a ceremonial lap with former and current riders of the Telenet Fidea team, where he rode the last 12 seasons of his career. He was joined in the lap by Petr Dlask, Peter Van Santvliet, Jan Verstraeten and his brother, Geert Wellens. Current riders Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen and Wout Van Aert also took part in Wellens' send off.
"It's fun to race here again," Wellens told Het Nieuwsblad. "I am very happy that many of my former teammates are present here. My life has completely changed. The stress of the 'cross is gone. I don't have to perform anymore and can enjoy life more now."
Wellens told Het Nieuwsblad he's not yet sure what he wants to do in the future.
"There are many ideas, but there are no concrete plans yet," he said. "We'll see. First I must have a major surgery on my back on February 1."