Italian sprint legend Mario Cipollini has undergone surgery after being diagnosed with a myocardial bridge – a band of heart muscle that lies on top of a coronary artery, instead of underneath it, constricting blood flow.
Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Cipollini went for a check-up with former Liquigas team doctor Roberto Corsetti after sensing a problem while out cycling.
“I realised something was wrong because when I climbed at 500 watts, I felt limited.”
A biopsy revealed that he had suffered a viral infection which had caused myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
He underwent surgery for the problem last month and also had an ablation in his right ventricle to resolve an arrhythmia.
"It was strange to be diagnosed with a heart problem because as an athlete you feel healthy, strong and in perfect health,” he said. “It also made me think that during my career I aggravated my heart in a bad way and I've now discovered I've got genetic problems that limited me."
Corsetti said Cipollini could have died without a full diagnosis and treatment and must now wait several months to see whether he will recover.
Cipollini hopes he can do some good by making the details surrounding his surgery public.
"Early diagnosis is important, as is the need to look after yourself and not ignore things,” he said. “I hope me revealing my heart problems can help others. Medical check-ups to obtain a [racing] licence aren’t very detailed. I've always done them and they never revealed anything.
“Fortunately, technology helps a lot these days and we can perhaps save some of the lives that are lost to something that can prove fatal.”
Another issue facing Cipollini at the moment is that he is due in court next month after being accused of stalking and violently assaulting his ex-wife, Sabrina Landucci. If the accusations are proven, he could face a prison sentence.
The Italian declined to comment on the case. “It wouldn't be right for me to speak about it before I speak to the judge," he said.
Cipollini won 42 stages of the Giro d’Italia, 12 stages of the Tour de France, and Milan-San Remo and the World Championships in 2002.
In 2013, the Italian was accused of being among the clients of doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. He denied this, but later that year his name was on a list of positive doping tests published by the French Senate after 1998 Tour de France samples were retested for EPO.