Niko Eeckhout to continue with An Post Sean Kelly team, delays retirement for one more year
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Niko Eeckhout to continue with An Post Sean Kelly team, delays retirement for one more year

by Shane Stokes at 7:32 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Injury
 
Belgian strongman recovering from back injury

Niko EekhoutBelgian hardman Niko Eeckhout is continued to make good progress from a back injury suffered earlier this season, and is committed to at least one more year in the professional ranks. The former national champion, who will turn 40 in December, will remain with the An Post Grand Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly team and is hoping to win more races in 2011.

“Niko will continue next year,” team manager Kurt Bogaerts confirmed to VeloNation yesterday. “It looks like it will be his final year, although you can never say that 100 percent [with him]. He had his injury earlier this year and stopped early to recover and to be ready for next season. I think everything is looking positive. He is doing rehab, some swimming and also work on the bike. He is working very hard to make sure he has recovered from it. The goal is to be ready from the start of the season.”

Eeckhout crashed heavily in the Grand Prix Pino Cerami on April 8. He initially didn’t realise the extent of the injury, starting the Brabantse Pijl and the GP Denain, but severe pain led to more tests and some scans. Those revealed a broken vertebra which could have had very serious consequences.

“When he showed me the picture, I saw how close everything was,” he told Belga after seeing a back specialist. “I've been very lucky, or else I might be in a wheelchair now. “

He took some time out, then came back for the Tour of Belgium. He then won a stage of the Ronde de l’Oise in June. However Bogaerts feels now that Eeckhout probably returned to racing too soon. “He never really got the chance to heal properly. He was a little bit too ambitious to be good in the Belgian championship and for September’s races. He started a bit early. A disk was broken, he never really got time to heal….so a complete rest was needed.”

Nicknamed Rambo due to his toughness and strength, Eeckhout turned pro eighteen years ago and competed with a number of teams, including Collstrop, Palmans and Lotto. He was Belgian champion in 2006, won the Dwars door Vlaanderen twice, and has also taken victories in races such as the Étoile de Bessèges, the Tour of Denmark, the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen, the Championship of Flanders, the GP d’Isbergues and Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.

He has managed to keep winning despite his age, picking up stages in the Étoile de Bessèges and Ronde de l’Oise last year. His contribution to the team is not just in terms of results, though, as he also shares his experience with the younger riders and helps guide them. It is thought that he might go into a management role when he finally retires.

For now, the focus is completely on rejoining the peloton. Bogaerts said that Eeckhout has been working hard to get back from the injury, and to return to top form. “We made the decision at the end of August to take an early break,” he explained. “He had six weeks completely off the bike, then an active rest. Things seem fine now - we had a few tests, it was positive. He is concentrating on endurance training right now, not really power training. He started training a lot earlier than his colleagues, and already has four weeks behind him. He should be ready for the start of the season.”

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A longer interview with Bogaerts will appear soon on VeloNation.

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