French development rider Théo Nonnez has announced that he will be retiring from professional cycling so that he can be mentally happy.
Nonnez (Groupama-FDJ Continentale) has decided that he will step away from the sport after suffering from severe mental health problems due to the stress of training.
Speaking in a team press release (opens in new tab), Nonnez said: "I made this decision after a long period of reflection. I think we can call it a burnout, even though it’s rather an addition of many things that got me to this point. I am not sad to make this decision.
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"On the opposite, it gives me hope again. I had entered a vicious cycle and I didn’t dare talking about how I felt. I realise that I did the right thing with coming out of my silence because I don’t know what would have happened if I had remained quiet any longer."
The 21-year-old has had some very solid performances in the development races, including fifth at the Ronde de l'Isard and a very impressive fourth at the under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well as the junior French road race title.
The Frenchman was struggling to find motivation last season even with a goal of becoming a full-time WorldTour rider for this year. But he trained too much and ended up damaging himself further.
"Finally, something clicked a few days before Christmas. I went for a training ride on my own, as I often do, because I had specific exercises to do. The weather was really bad, I had very poor motivation, and after a few dozen minutes, I broke down.
"I started to cry on the bike. At that point, I said to myself: 'Théo, you have to stop all this, it has to change, there is something wrong'. I then took a step back and got great support from the team’s medical staff, as well as from my relatives."
The team and his relatives had given him support but when it came to the build-up for the 2021 season, he realised that he could not continue as a rider.
"I had come to a point when I could not do it anymore… I felt bad about not respecting the contract, but I would have felt like taking the guys for idiots going there and pretending everything was all right. This sport is so hard when you’re at 100 per cent, so when you’re not, it’s not even an option.
"When I called the team to tell them I wanted to stop, I was in tears. They told me to take my time, to take a few weeks to think about it, to put the bike aside and not ride if I didn’t feel like it. I can’t thank the team enough for that.
"In another environment, I might have immediately been pushed aside or kicked out. I was fortunate enough to have this time to think through, and this time enabled me to strengthen my decision.
"I had already felt last year that I needed some sort of an outlet, even if cycling fulfils that role for many. I needed something else, the team was very open about it and was kind enough to pay for a training course in communication.
"I’ve committed to it, I still do, and I hope to bounce back in this area. Why not even work with the team again later?! I have many projects but they need to get more concrete, and I’m still slowly getting back on my feet."
Nonnez is not the first rider to step away from racing due to mental health issues. Marcel Kittel and more recently Tom Dumoulin both stepped away from the sport to try and gather themselves again. Kittel never came back to the sport (opens in new tab), whereas it is unclear as to whether former world time trial champion Dumoulin (opens in new tab) will return or not.
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Hi, I'm one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter. Proud Yorkshireman from the UK's answer to Flanders, Calderdale, go check out the cobbled climbs!
I started watching cycling back in 2010, before all the hype around London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France. In fact, it was Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck's battle in the fog up the Tourmalet on stage 17 of the Tour de France.
It took me a few more years to get into the journalism side of things, but I had a good idea I wanted to get into cycling journalism by the end of year nine at school and started doing voluntary work soon after. This got me a chance to go to the London Six Days, Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain to name a few before eventually joining Eurosport's online team while I was at uni, where I studied journalism. Eurosport gave me the opportunity to work at the world championships in Harrogate back in the awful weather.
After various bar jobs, I managed to get my way into Cycling Weekly in late February of 2020 where I mostly write about racing and everything around that as it's what I specialise in but don't be surprised to see my name on other news stories.
When not writing stories for the site, I don't really switch off my cycling side as I watch every race that is televised as well as being a rider myself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager. Maybe too regular.
My bike is a well used Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on my local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being my preferred terrain.
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