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.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1