By Nigel Wynn
Double 2016 Vuelta a España stage winner Gianni Meersman has been forced to bring his professional cycling career to a premature end after a routine medical check discovered that he had a heart condition.
It was discovered that the 31-year-old Belgian had a cardiac arrhythmia and scar tissue on his heart during a medical check, as Meersman prepared to switch from the Etixx-QuickStep team to Fortuneo-Vital Concept for 2017.
After further tests, doctors advised Meersman to stop competing at a professional level with immediate effect, due to the risk that the condition posed to his long-term health.
"When this abnormal cardiac assessment was discovered a few weeks ago, it was obviously a real shock," Meersman said in a statement issued by the Fortuneo team on December 30.
"In the meantime, I had additional tests and scans, but they confirmed that this health risk would persist if I continued to cycle at a high level, so the specialists advised me to end my active career."
Meersman continued: "Compared to my wife and daughter, who put everything aside during my career, I can not and will not take such a risk. Cycling was not only my profession but also my passion, and so it was with great pain that I made this decision."
Meersman thanked his fans and friends for their support on Twitter, saying: "I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and your kind words during this difficult period. I also want to thank the people who believed in me during my career. Who were always there for me, unconditionally."
In addition to his two sprint stage wins at the 2016 Vuelta – his first Grand Tour stage victories – Meersman won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Handzame Classic in 2015. He also counts stage wins in Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Volta ao Algarve and Volta a Catalunya in his palmares, as well as overall victory in the 2014 Tour de Wallonie.
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