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Eating disorders “the most important” talking point in the peloton, says pro cyclist

Israel Start-Up Nation rider Davide Cimolai says his own struggles to keep weight down cost him “two or three years” of his career

Eating disorders are “the biggest talking point” in the peloton, according to Israel Start-Up Nation rider Davide Cimolai.

The 31 year old, who in 2019 won two stages and the overall victory at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, said that the pressure to keep his weight down as a neo-pro cost him “two or three” years of his career.

Cimolai was contacted by the Italian website Bici Training after it published an interview with Novo Nordisk nutritionist Laura Martinelli in which she spoke of the issue of eating disorders within the sport.

According to Cimolai, who has been riding at the sport’s top level since 2010, one of the main problems is that younger riders looking to enter the sport are still guided by an “old generation” with outdated views when it comes to nutrition.

“The problem didn’t arise yesterday,” he said. “I experienced it 12 years ago, when I turned pro. You just have to look around to see how things still are.

“If the people leading you have an old-school mentality, if after a five-hour training ride they give you an apple or piece of fruit, you understand that something isn’t right?

“So you turn pro and think that being lightweight is the only thing that matters, while perhaps that extra kilo is the difference between going strongly and stopping riding. I learnt that at the hard way.

“There are two issues to separate,” he continued. “I’d have preferred to have found alongside me someone who could have taught me to eat well.

“If I’d not understood it myself, I really would have stopped racing. Teams need to have someone able to explain this to neo-pros.

“Abroad, you find certain people even in the youth categories, in Italy there is still too much incompetence.

“Then there’s the other side of the coin,” he said. “Right now, having someone in a team who stands behind you at dinner to check what you’re eating, someone who isn’t a nutritionist, makes me mad. Who are you to tell me certain things? But this happens, especially in Italian circles.”

Concerning the pressure new professionals face to conform, Cimolai said that they could learn from more experienced team mates.

“If a young rider asked me about this, I’d be very happy to help him,” he said, but added, “Do you know what really annoys me about these kids who arrive and don’t even look at you? Even more than showing little respect during races, it’s that they think they know everything.”

He said that eating disorders “are the most important topic of discussion” among riders. “Some have stopped racing due to it, and there are others who have thrown away their best years but luckily at least have recovered and are still in the peloton.

“One was with me, a huge talent, and it took him six years to get back to himself.

“Another turned pro with exceptional results behind him and at 19 years of age was already at the point at which he wouldn’t even allow himself a pizza, but after four or five years, he recovered. The question is, who gives you that much time?”

Speaking of his own experience, Cimolai revealed: “I threw away two or three years of my career, the first ones as a professional, then I started to emerge.”

Asked about teams that appear to put extreme thinness of physique above everything else, he said: “And maybe the results justify that to them. They squeeze the riders so much, that when they change teams, they don’t progress.”

Last year a dietician in the UK said that she had seen a five-fold increase in the number of male cyclists referred to her, blaming the rise on performance being prioritised over health.

> “Cycling culture must change,” says dietician

Renee McGregor told Sky News: “It's a very fine line between being light enough to perform optimally and being so light that it starts to affect mental and physical health.

“I don't think enough coaches and sporting teams and sporting bodies have the information and the education they need, so when that is line crossed, it's often crossed at the expense of the athlete.”

Among high-profile male cyclists to have opened up about eating disorders are two-time world time trial champion Rohan Dennis.

> Rohan Dennis reveals he nearly ended up with an eating disorder last year attempting to become a GC contender

Last year, the Ineos Grenadiers rider revealed that he had found himself on a “slippery slope” as he struggled to contain his weight when he decided to switch his focus from time trialling to the general classification at Grand Tours.

“Last year [2019] I was thinking ‘you know what? it’s probably something that physically I can do – be a Grand Tour rider – and I have the capabilities,” he said.

“But I just don’t know if I want to go down the road, and I’ll be honest with you, I started to eat and not eat and was on that slippery slope of a complex or disorder.

“I would end up starving myself then bonking at training, and I said ‘it’s not worth it, what am I doing?’

“I pulled the reins on that a fair bit earlier last year, it’s not worth having a disorder,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Bryin | 3 years ago

Can you imagine someone telling De Valmick or Merckx or Kelly or Hinault what they could and could not eat?  They would have ended up with a fork in their eye.  Pro cyclists have went from giants of the road to cowards.  

Simon E replied to Bryin | 3 years ago

Bryin wrote:

Pro cyclists have went from giants of the road to cowards.  

Based on this, I guess you know some of them quite well. What do they say when you tell them that they are cowards? Or are you just an arsehole? Try saying that to Rohan Dennis's face.

Eating disorders and disordered eating are a serious matter and affect male and female riders and it's largely driven (or at least perpetuated) by team management. There are serious long term effects, some of which you probably haven't even heard of. Making light of issues like these is ignorant and deeply disrespectful.

NZ Vegan Rider replied to Simon E | 3 years ago
1 like

Well stated. 

Dogless replied to Bryin | 3 years ago
1 like

Ah yes, that's the issue here, professional cyclists are too 'cowardly' to stand up to a toxic workplace culture. That's the real problem, not that the culture exists in the first place. Snowflakes, honestly.

Captain Badger replied to Bryin | 3 years ago

Bryin wrote:

Can you imagine someone telling De Valmick or Merckx or Kelly or Hinault what they could and could not eat?  They would have ended up with a fork in their eye.  Pro cyclists have went from giants of the road to cowards.  

Not sure what you are getting at here. Are you blaming younger impressionable riders, desperate to get into the upper levels of the sport, for being pushed into eating disorders by unethical and incompetent team management breaching their duty of care? Or are you saying that it isn't a problem and Cimolai is making it up?

RobD replied to Bryin | 3 years ago

So that's four riders out of potentially tens of thousands that you think wouldn't have stood for being told what to do? And none of them when they were new riders at the start of their career and told if they want a contract for next year they need to shed a couple more kilos would have gone along with whoever was paying them and what they told them?

Brauchsel replied to Bryin | 3 years ago

Yes, literally no cyclists from the good old days would have let themselves be pressured over what they would or wouldn't put into their bodies. 

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