Danish rider retiring at 21 calls use of pills in pro racing ‘grotesque’

Ludvig Wacker describes how a fear of crashing following a big incident in 2020 led him to hang up his racing wheels before his career really took off.

Photo: Mark Van Hecke/Getty Images

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A Danish rider, who has announced his retirement aged just 21, has called out the use of pills in pro racing.

Ludvig Wacker, a former member of the Sunweb development team, decided to pull the plug on his career this year citing a big crash that made him scared in the bunch, and mental exhaustion, behind his decision to step away from the sport.

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In an interview with the Danish website Feltet.dk, Wacker described the blatant use of pills in cycling as “grotesque”. He added that he believed young riders would obtain the pills themselves without any action from their teams.

Wacker didn’t name any riders or teams directly.

“I’m tired of pills in the sport. It might be legal pills, but I’m still tired of having pills in cycling and I think it’s grotesque that it has to be so obvious,” he told Feltet.dk. “It’s so obvious. In the big races, people ride around with small containers in their pockets with pills and so on. I’ve never wanted to take anything myself, and then you know that in all the finales the others are taking stuff you don’t.

“I often think it’s the young riders themselves who are doing it. It’s not necessarily the teams that are behind it. The riders can get it themselves. It’s very easy to get your hands on.”

Wacker added that while the substances were not banned, he worried about the consequences of using some of the substances on a very regular basis.

“These include painkillers and caffeine, among other things. It’s completely ridiculous the amount people are taking because you do not know what it can mean for the rider’s body in 20 years,” he said.

Burning out

Wacker was a promising young rider and has previously won the Gent-Wevelgem juniors and multiple stages of the Denmark Youth Tour. He was signed up to the Sunweb development team in 2019 but left when his contract ran out the following year, despite being offered an extension.

Also read: Painkillers and cycling: Tramadol’s dark danger

A big crash at the Randers Bike Week in Denmark last year was the beginning of the end for the young rider. Though he did not suffer any serious injuries, it impacted his confidence in the bunch and made him fearful of coming down again.

“There are several reasons why I quit. I crashed last year in Randers Bike Week, which was the first race after the coronavirus shutdown. The crash itself was at high speed, but I did not hit myself really hard, but in my head, it was much worse than it really was,” he said.

“Then it went completely wrong for the Danish championships in 2020, where I was sat too far back because I was too careful. Then I just stood there by the side of the road with my mom and dad. The next day I called Sunweb and said I would not continue there even though they had talked to me about an extension. I was going home.”

The struggles continued into this season as Wacker raced with Danish squad Team CO Play-Giant. In the end, he decided to step away from the sport and retire at just 21.

Despite his struggles in recent seasons, Wacker harbors no ill feeling towards cycling and is glad that he had the opportunity to race at a high level.

“I have learned an incredible amount from living abroad, I am really proud of that. I’m so glad I took that opportunity and that I got as far in the sport as I did. It is completely unreal that I have ridden the junior edition of Paris-Roubaix,” he said.

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