Kirchen weighing up options, will make his decision very soon about retirement
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Kirchen weighing up options, will make his decision very soon about retirement

by Shane Stokes at 9:11 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Injury
Classics winner torn between his sport and guarantees to his health

Kim KirchenStruck by a cardiac arrest during the Tour de Suisse last June, Luxembourg’s Kim Kirchen has been in limbo since then. He wants to continue racing, but is also aware that taking risks could be catastrophic; because of that, he has been waiting.

Waiting for what? Well, a diagnosis is the main factor. He and his doctors have apparently still not worked out why he collapsed and almost died, and so it is very difficult to decide what his next step should be. If he can return safely, then he will certainly do so. But if there is any danger, he will walk away; the stakes are too high to take a chance, and he’s got a wife and two children who need a father, not a memory.

“It is still unknown, but now, as time passes, the chances of returning to the peloton become worse,” he told Le Quotidien, who did a long interview with him of late. “As I indicated in early January, I must wait. I still need time to consider all the options. I am continuing my visits to specialists, especially in Germany, to understand what happened. After that, we can see what we can do, or not.”

“I still have ambition. But still, I must think about what happened. If someone says: "We just found the problem and we will remove it", if there is no more risk, then tomorrow I'm back, for sure. But this is not the case, so we must evaluate all the parameters and set a course of action.”

Prior to Kirchen’s collapse, he was experiencing peculiar health issues which may or may not be connected to his heart problem. Before the E3 Prijs he had an infected saddle sore, went on a heavy dose of antibiotics and ended up in the hospital due to a bad reaction to the medication. Doctors were unable to pinpoint the cause.

Then, two days before the Brabantse Pijl, he was found unconscious while out training and taken to the hospital by ambulance. Again, doctors couldn’t work out what had happened.

A third incident happened during Flèche Wallonne when on the first ascent of the Mur de Huy, his vision went black and he became unaware of where he was.

The cardiac arrest occurred two months later on June 18th. He collapsed in the hotel room he was sharing with Joaquim Rodriguez and had to be given CPR. He was rushed to the University Hospital of Zurich and was placed in a medically induced coma for three days. He was transferred soon afterwards to a hospital in Luxembourg, and was finally released during the week of July 5th.

Kirchen was asked by Le Quotidien how he was doing. “Okay,” he replied, “some days are good. Other days, less so. In normal life, I feel pretty comfortable. But there are other times of thinking a lot [about the health issues] and when things aren’t great.”

Those worries mean that he is hesitant to do anything physically strenuous. He hasn’t trained and won’t do so until such time as he is given a green light. “I'm not risking anything,” he said, “because nothing is certain. And for that reason, I'd rather take things easy. No sport for the moment.”

Kirchen makes the point that ending his career wouldn’t be as difficult if he was 35 or 36 years of age, and had been anticipating retirement. However the 32 year old said that he still feels that he can do something in the sport, health permitting, and that things were also tough to accept as it all stopped so abruptly.

The decision whether to continue or not has been dragging on for quite a while but he believes that he will be in a position soon to pick one course of action or another. If he does retire, he may have the option of working with the new Leopard Trek team. He had previously been offered a position with the Katusha team, although he expressed concern about being away from his wife and twin daughters for long periods of time. In that respect, taking up a position with the Luxembourg-based Leopard-Trek squad could work better. However Kirchen said that nothing is finalised as yet.

The other option would be to take up a regular job. He’d be away from the sport, but it would offer two advantages; he could be based at home with his family, and it would also provide better long term prospects. “The problem is for me to find a long-term job until retirement,” he said. “That's my goal. With a cycling team, as directeur sportif, you sign a contract of two to four years. After that, we must review and repeat.”

The fact that Kirchen is thinking so much about the next phase of his life may well suggest that he realises that he could well have to call it quits, that he has started to move on. Part of him doesn’t want to let go, though; part of him still wants to win more races, and to be amongst the peloton in the Ardennes Classics, the Tour or other such races where he has excelled before.

His health must be the primary concern, and so it’s up to the consultants and the experts. If they can give him a guarantee that he will be cured, he gives the impression that he’ll seize it. If there are ongoing health risks, he knows himself the wisest thing is to stop.

Being around his family helps him feel better about not competing, but he’s still torn. “When I am with them, I do not think so much. But when I'm alone, I think a lot,” he said. “About cycling and other sports as well. To do other sports, it is not clear now. And there, for someone who is always restless like me, who risks their lives [doing a dangerous sport] like myself, it's not easy to understand.”


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