Michael Blaudzun hangs it up

A tale of two thirty-somethings

I've never been a professional athlete, never will be, but something on Thursday got me thinking about how I'd feel if that totally  hypothetical (because you weren't even a quarter talented enough whatever you say about once beating Justin Rose at golf you idiot) sporting career had just staggered to its conclusion.

The "something" I'm talking about was actually a someone - the 35 year old Dane Michael Blaudzun, who stepped off his bike at the end of the World Time Trial Championship knowing that his days of self-harm were over. Or, to put in terms less likely to provoke irate calls from mental health charities, that he'd ridden his last professional race.

I studied Blaudzun in the first few seconds of retirement. There he was, buttocks parked on the tarmac, shoulders propped up by a wire fence, pain etched across his face, nothing in his sightline but a world of possibilities. OK, that and my dictaphone, but you get the idea....

Blaudzun turned pro with Novell in 1995. That was three years after Lance Armstrong. Next year, when Armstrong's flogging himself in Australia, California, France or wherever else his World Tour of Duty or whatever it is takes him, Blaudzun won't be slumped against a wire fence, he'll be kicking back on his sofa with a cold beer. In other words, he'll be doing exactly the kind of thing Armstrong said he was looking forward to when he announced his "first retirement" back in 2005.

Blaudzun told me he that his overwhelming feeling - apart from physical pain - was one of relief. That and sadness, because he wasn't just saying goodbye to a career here, but also to the camaraderie which is a key perk of his now former job.

Blaudzun has been at CSC since 2001, or "pretty much since the start", as he said.  He's been Danish national time trial champion three times. In his own words, he's had "a good career."

If I was him, I guess I'd be relieved too. But then neither of us is Armstrong. What Blaudzun and I also agreed on was that, far from being a handicap, the three years that Sir Lancelot has spent away that moving torture chamber known as the pro peloton will have restored a hunger which may have started to wane. Sure, no-one's ever pretended that Armstrong is anything other than pathologically driven, but a decade of relentless physical and psychological stress will sap the energy of any man.

Michael Blaudzun says there'll be no comeback for him. But then we've heard that before...

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