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Offredo forced into retirement and struggling to come to terms with it

JAWW SAUDI ARABIA FEBRUARY 04 Start Yoann Offredo of France and Team CircusWanty Gobert during the 1st Saudi Tour 2020 Stage 1 a 173km stage from Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee to Jaww SaudiTour on February 04 2020 in Jaww Saudi Arabia Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Yoann Offredo (Circus-Wanty Gobert) at the Saudi Tour (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Yoann Offredo (Circus-Wanty Gobert) has announced his retirement from professional cycling in an emotional interview with French newspaper L’Equipe.

The French rider admitted he is "going through a depressive phase" and is struggling to find meaning in his life now he can no longer call himself a professional bike rider.

Offredo’s troubles are heightened by the fact that retirement wasn’t his choice, but instead thrust upon him at the age of 33 by an ankle injury dating back to March 2019, when he suffered temporary paralysis and was airlifted to hospital after crashing at the GP de Denain.

He went on to complete that year’s Tour de France but had to undergo a tendon graft in the off-season, which ultimately did not deliver him back to full fitness. He hasn’t raced since Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, and doctors recently told him he won’t race again.

As such, Offredo, who turned pro with FDJ in 2008 and has spent the last four years with Circus-Wanty Gobert, must now hang up his wheels, which he has found hard to accept.

"Out of respect for everyone who has supported me, and to thank them for those great years with Française des Jeux and Wanty, I wanted to write some words to say I’m stopping, but I wasn’t able to. I’m in denial," Offredo told L’Equipe.

"I used to hear people talk about the 'small death' when a rider retires, but for me that was abstract. When you're racing, you have your head in the handlebars and the blinkers on. I’d like to talk things through but I don’t have many people to do that with – I don’t necessarily have many friendships with other riders.

"I’m in a bit of a depressive phase. Last year, Peter Kennaugh and Marcel Kittel stopped because of depression, but that word is still taboo. Most riders don’t express themselves, or they hide behind appearances. Me, when I wake up in the morning, I’m sad to not be in touch with my emotions. I just need to rediscover an objective in life."

One objective could be media work, after he spent the summer in the France Télévisions studio working as a pundit on their Tour de France coverage. He was well received, notably voicing his disgust at the lack of breakaway efforts, himself a baroudeur who, despite only winning one race – a stage of the 2009 Tour de Picardie – was rarely content to sit in the peloton.

Offredo also revealed he plans to use benefits accrued working for FDJ to go to university to study a masters in political sciences, specialising in journalism. However, no longer being an athlete is something he has yet to come to terms with.

"I miss my legs hurting when you go upstairs after training," he said. "I used to do around 30 hours per week on my bike. I’m no longer tired enough to get to sleep at night. At 3am, I’m still awake, and I’m asking myself questions. In the morning, I’ve sometimes woken up in tears.

"I used to exist as a rider. I liked the pain, I liked being cold, I fell down and I got back up. But as a man, who am I?"

Referring to the fact he no longer has to obsess over his weight, he added: "I feel like I’m bound to go through an almost self-destructive phase, put on 10-15 kilos, slump pretty low so as to then bounce back."

Despite riding for FDJ for so long, Offredo only made his Tour de France debut when he joined Wanty in 2017, going on to ride the following two editions and memorably going solo 200km from the line on a stage of the 2019 race. 

This year he was forced into a spectating role, and he described the moment he nipped out of the France TV studio to watch the riders go past on the Champs-Elysées on the final day. 

"I felt like a kid at the side of the road, as if it was the first time. I was amazed at it, I had goosebumps and wide eyes for the Tour de France riders, these super heroes who had reached the end of the road," he said. 

"Seeing my colleagues Thomas Voeckler and Thierry Adam go past on TV motorbikes, I said to myself, 'You're on the other side now – a page has turned'. I went back into the studio and I wasn't in a good way, not in a good way at all. I was very emotional."