By Jonny Long
Cyclocross rider Justin Laevens has come out as gay, one of only a few professional cyclists ever to do so.
The 19-year-old Belgian says the decision is something he's been thinking about for years, worried about the reaction within the sport, but that he wants to set an example for other riders.
"I had been thinking about it for two years. It was a big step," Laevens told SportNU.be. "My parents were very positive about it. I was especially afraid of the reactions of bigger riders or teams, that they would look at me differently, but I don't think that's the case."
"Being out in the sports world is difficult," he continued. "I hope I can set an example for other athletes, for riders or for cyclocrossers who may still be hidden in their shell."
Laevens currently rides for Proximus-AlphaMotorhomes-Doltcini, having already stepped up to elite level this season, placing 34th in Gullegem. He will also line up in the elite field at the Belgian National Cyclocross Championships this Sunday, as the U23 and junior races have been postponed due to coronavirus restrictions.
"Thank you for all your beautiful and positive messages! I hope to be an example to others. Be yourself, enjoy your life and be happy in yourself!" Laevens posted on Instagram after his interview with SportNU.be went live, also reposting a deluge of supportive messages from around the global cycling community.
Back in 2013, a cycling fan asked Jonathan Vaughters if there were any openly gay cyclists, to which Vaughters responded: "I'm sure there are, but pretty closeted. It's not an overly friendly environment."
A 2018 study of 5,500 LGBT people in the European Union found that nine in 10 believe sport has a problem with homophobia and transphobia.
82 per cent said this prejudice was experienced through derogatory slurs, while one in five reported violent altercations.
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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