Belgian Classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke announced Friday that he will retire from pro cycling immediately, following medical tests that showed cardiac scar tissue and a risk of further complications if he continued racing.
“Following an abnormally high heart rate detected while on the bike, Vanmarcke underwent testing including a cardiac MRI which confirmed the presence of scar tissue,” read an announcement from his Israel-Premier Tech team.
“I would have liked to have raced at the highest level for a few more years and achieve more great performances together with IPT in the biggest races,” Vanmarcke said in the announcement. “It is very sad and painful to announce the end of my career in this way. At the same time, I am grateful that the problems with my heart were discovered in time.”
The announcement did not list a specific medical cause for the high heart rate or its link to the scar tissue found in the cardiac MRI. There is an uncommon but well-established link between high-volume, high-intensity exercise and cardiac arrythmia, including a condition called supraventricular tachycardia, where exercise can lead to a dangerously high heart rate (longtime cycling tech writer Lennard Zinn covered his own experiences with it in his book The Haywire Heart).
Vanmarcke is the latest in a number of pro cyclists forced to retire due to cardiac health concerns. Most recently, Jan Polanc (May 2023) and Sonny Colbrelli (November 2022) saw their careers end prematurely, while Michael Rogers, Olivier Kaisen, Jimmy Turgis, and former World Cyclocross Champion Niels Albert also had heart-related medical issues that forced them to quit the sport.
Vanmarcke, 34, had a 14-year pro career on a variety of teams including two stints at what is now EF Education-EasyPost. The Belgian burst onto the scene as a 23-year-old cobbles talent when he won the 2012 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, establishing himself as a Classics specialist to watch. Wins were hard to come by since, but Vanmarcke was rarely out of the mix at major cobbled races, with seven top-five finishes at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“When I pinned a number for the first time back in 2003, I never dared to dream about having a professional career,” he said in the team announcement. “I ended up living that dream for 14 years, with highs and lows. I wasn’t the super talent, but with dedication and hard work I was able to compete with the best riders in the biggest races for years.”
Israel-Premier Tech team owner Sylvan Adams and general manager Kjell Carlström, in a joint statement, expressed shock at the development, adding, “At the same time, we are relieved that the issue was discovered, as Sep’s health and wellbeing are the priorities, for Sep, his family, and his IPT family.” The statement said IPT would continue to support Vanmarcke “in this period of transition as he determines what he would like to do next.”
What that is, Vanmarcke can’t yet say, so sudden was the news – he was actively racing through much of June at the Baloise Belgium Tour and Belgian national championships. “I’m going to take the time now to be with my family, to accept the situation and think about what I want to do in the future,” he said. “My whole life has been all about cycling. Cycling will always be my passion.”
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