Diego Ulissi: I was in shock when heart trouble was diagnosed - coming back to racing feels like a victory

In this week's column from UAE Team Emirates, the Italian rider opens up about his return from myocarditis

Itzulia Basque Country 2021 - 60th Edition - 1st stage Bilbao - Bilbao 13,9 km - 05/04/2021 - Diego Ulissi (ITA - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2021
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When I heard the news that I had problems with my heart I was in shock.

I am a professional cyclist that was winning races, in form and feeling fit – I just didn’t understand.

I’ve always felt healthy and there was never any sign or inclination that there was something wrong, so when the team’s medical staff told me that I needed an MRI scan after finding an irregular heartbeat, I was worried.

It was last December and I had just finished what was perhaps my best season ever in UAE Team Emirates colours. I had a consistent run of high-level performances from January to October which also got me into the top 10 in the UCI individual rankings. I was already beginning my preparation for this season and was hungry to build on a great year. Then I found myself facing this unexpected situation.

Fortunately, the team’s medical staff were quick to act and discovered the abnormality. I underwent the normal health checks required by the UCI and the team.

I was fine and did not feel any disturbance, but the discovery of an irregular heartbeat during a physical exertion, not previously present, gave the medical staff some doubts. After an ultrasound, two new tests and a cardiac MRI scan, myocarditis was diagnosed by the medical team.

Myocarditis is essentially an inflammation of the heart muscle. As a precaution, I had to undergo a period of absolute rest for a few months, meaning no cycling at all and a few more trips to the clinic until a full prognosis could be determined.

It reminded me that life does not end with cycling – there are more important things.

As cyclists, we often have tunnel vision as all we do is eat, sleep and breathe cycling but this was a good reminder that there is more.

I spent my rest period with my family including my two daughters - one was born while we were in quarantine in the UAE last year - which was great.

The first months at home I really had to rest, and I didn’t do any training at all. When I received good results back from the tests, I slowly started training again. All the necessary checks had been carried out to ensure maximum safety, thinking first of health and then of training.

Itzulia Basque Country 2021 - 60th Edition - 2nd stage Zalla - Sestao 154.8 km - 06/04/2021 - Diego Ulissi (ITA - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2021
Diego Ulissi back in the saddle. Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2021

This season I’m feeling much better. I’ve competed in a couple of races now and I can say that my form is coming back. Not super just yet, but it will take some time to get back in the race rhythm.

Coming back to racing already feels like a victory for me. To be back in the team environment and at the races is a real buzz and something you can’t emulate elsewhere.

It depends a bit on my progression, but the immediate plan is to go to the Ardennes races where I have done well in the past and then perhaps to the Giro d’Italia next month. As an Italian the Giro is very special for me. I’ve also had some really nice moments there and some beautiful victories, so I really hope to start in Turin.

I must give a heartfelt thanks to everyone at UAE Team Emirates who were taking great care of me through this unfortunate time. The support from my teammates was huge.

I had so many messages and calls from the riders and staff in the team and it was a good example of how everyone in this squad looks after each other.

It’s a really beautiful period for the team now, with the success of Tadej and the other young riders coming through whom I can offer my advice to as one of the more experienced riders in the team.

I’d also like to thank all of our fans in the UAE - your support doesn’t go unnoticed and we appreciate it all. We will be going full gas over the next couple of months and will do the country proud at this year’s Giro.