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Nathan van Hooydonck climbing Col du Tourmalet during stage 6 of the Tour de France in July (Photo: Rui Vale Sousa)

Nathan van Hooydonck has been getting used to being a retired athlete in recent weeks – after being forced out of the sport – and says he has wondered whether a new way of racing in pro cycling since the pandemic may have brought on his heart condition.

The 28-year-old says he cannot understand how he was able to get a clear bill of health during checks carried out by Jumbo Visma’s medical staff a matter of months ago and yet quickly developed a serious heart condition that has now put an end to his career.

However, he also said when he crashed his car in Belgium in September – after his heart stopped – he had “all the luck on the world” because three medics who immediately performed different tasks to keep him alive were at a nearby police station.

“All the people who had to be there to keep me alive were there,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “One went to get an AED, someone else did the chest compressions and someone else gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If one of those three care providers If you had taken the day off that day, it could have looked different.”

He was placed in an induced coma and woke up on the same day, uninjured. He has been fitted with an internal defibrillator to correct potential future cardiac arrhythmia. While he now accepts he cannot return to racing, he said when he woke up in hospital he immediately asked his family members at his bedside what the future held for him.

“Can I still cycle? I could move my arms, I could move my legs. I asked my father, usually a very positive man, and he said: we’ll see about that. Then I already knew enough,” adding now he cannot understand how a cardiac arrhythmia developed, apparently so quickly and with no warning and no minor warning signs.

“While I was examined by the team in December and there was nothing to see. They cannot answer how that could develop in eight months. Maybe I trained too hard? I have always asked a lot of myself. But I don’t think that is the reason.

“It is true that after the Covid stop there is a different way of racing. The finals start earlier, we sometimes race under very difficult conditions. Forty degrees and we just keep driving. That’s not healthy.

“It is worth investigating that thoroughly. I would like to know, especially for my teammates and other people who participate in top sports. That they know: this can happen if you do this or this. It is now a mystery.”

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