Cyclists seem to be prone to psychological problems more than other athletes. Prozac is extremely popular in the peloton. The high performance pressure and the solo character of the heavy sport cause a lot of stress, says Belgian Paul Standaert, who worked as a psychologist in the Rabobank team.

From the notes that were found on the dead body it appears that Marco Pantani felt misunderstood, hunted and lonely. “They wanted to punish only me ” he wrote. Three times he wrote in the notes, the word ‘conspiracy’. “No one was able to understand me. Even my family was not. I felt alone.” The former Tour winner was found dead in a hotel in Rimini.

The autopsy still did not clarify the exact cause of death. The coroner said the cardiac arrest was caused by an accumulation of fluid in the brains. According to Professor Fortuni there is no indication as yet that indicates a cocktail of drugs. ,, But there is also no evidence to exclude this. ”

The content of the notes that were found on Pantani enhance the image of a depressed man. Recently, two other riders saw no way out of depression. Early December  José Maria Jiménez ended his life in a psychiatric clinic at the age of 32. A few weeks later  the Dutch ex-pro Michel Zanoli (35) did the same. They had, like Pantani, at the end of their careers experienced psychological distress and depression, coupled with addiction problems. Cyclists seem more susceptible to than any other athletes as well. Luis Ocaña, Thierry Claveyrolat and Janus Kuum decided in the nineties to step out of life.

Examples of cyclists who had psychological problems are many. Frank Vandenbroucke, Jan Ullrich and Maarten den Bakker are some personalities who suffered from depression. At the hotel raids a product was found with fluoxetine, in the case of Ullrich in the 2001 Giro, the active ingredient in the antidepressant Prozac. The Belgian rider Hans de Clercq claimed in his response that “half peloton is on Prozac.”

Paul Standaert, was a psychologist of the Rabobank team, he can well imagine the situation.  “Endurance athletes and certainly cyclists have barely three weeks off in a year. Eleven months they live very intensely and they take too little time to recharge their physical, mental and emotional battery. This often brings a lot of stress and tension with it. If they do not have enough control they will get into problems over time. ”

The fact that cyclists are extra prone to have psychological problems also makes clear the gravity of the sport according to Standaert. The performance pressure from the team management and the sponsor is often high. A close connection with major social control is often lacking. ,, A footballer can ever hide himself away; a cyclist is mostly on his own. ”

Although they are part of a team, the sport remains very individual.  The riders often train alone. Psychological counseling is not routine procedure yet. Standaert is working on a plan to teach young professionals with exercises to detect and control ‘signals of stress and anxiety. “

Standaert regularly receive cyclists in his Ghent’s consulting room. According to this Flemish psychologist  the ‘fear of losing control’ plays an important role. Standaert: “There is often a tension when one is not satisfied with his base level,  which remains below expectations.  In that case one is often tempted to resort to various means, like forbidden drugs. If you have been in the sport for long  and have been affected by stress mechanism as much , once there is a short circuit. ”

In no other sport the threshold to take something seems to be  so low. Yvan  Van Mol, team doctor  of QuickStep, stated last year in Sport International, that the use of  Prozac  ‘says nothing about depression, but everything about over-medication.

Many riders were using amphetamine earlier to get through the long and lonely training. Johan van der Velde and Freddy Maertens became addicted and therefore off the right path. Pantani would have taken cocaine; a drug also appeared in 2002 at the positive doping test of the Italian Simoni.

Standaert: “it often begins with fatigue; sometimes they feel discouraged if they get psycho-physical symptoms. Vague ailments. They think that they have a problem in the muscles or joints, and look for any other medical discipline or a quack who can do something about it. The psychological side they ignore. And it seems quite easy to purchase all kinds of products to make them feel  better soon. This behavior you also see more and more in mainstream society as well. The use of  pills  increases enormously. ”

For Pantani extra ‘stress’ played a role. He was a folk hero, as was Jiménez in Spain, Ullrich in Germany and in Belgium Vandenbroucke. Moreover, he was heavily weighed down by accusations of doping. It all happened before the Festina case, including Alex Zülle. His mother told in 1999 in a Dutch newspaper  how her son was suffering: “Alex told me afterwards that he contemplated suicide when he was questioned by judicial authorities and imprisoned. “