Sonny Colbrelli has praised Manchester United midfielder Christian Eriksen for giving him the strength to rebuild his life after being forced to retire from professional cycling.
The former Bahrain Victorious rider announced his retirement in October, after an unstable cardiac arrhythmia resulted in his collapse at the Volta a Catalunya.
Despite the huge setback, the 32-year-old revealed how a phone call with Denmark star Eriksen played a massive role in his mental recovery.
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“When I woke up at the hospital and they told me what had happened to me, the first thing I thought about was Eriksen,” said Colbrelli in an exclusive interview with Eurosport Italy.
“This is because I also follow football, and who hasn't seen his story on television?
“I looked up his phone number and after a few days I managed to get it. I wrote him a message, almost frightened but he immediately replied: ‘if you wait 10 minutes, I'll finish training, I'll go out of the locker room and I'll call you back’.
“It didn't seem real to me; I didn't believe that a great champion had written to me after what happened to him. Now we see him at Manchester [United] and we will see him at the FIFA World Cup - for me it was a great joy.”
Colbrelli's collapse at the end of Stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya sent shockwaves through the sport, as he crossed the finish line in second place behind Michael Matthews.
After being rushed to hospital for further tests and medical attention, the cyclist's unstable cardiac arrhythmia was discovered.
He subsequently confirmed the news of his retirement last month in an emotional statement released on the Bahrain Victorious website.
“I say goodbye to cycling and try to do it with a smile for the good it gave me, even if it hurts to say goodbye after a season like last year. That was the best of my career. I learned what life offers and what life takes.
“But it also gives back in a different form. I’m ready to keep trying to be a champion, like on the bike. I will stay in cycling with the Bahrain Victorious, who have been close to me like a second family and will accompany me in this transition period from a rider to a new role that will evolve daily.
"I will be an ambassador for our partners, work closely with the performance group, and share my experience with my team-mates.”
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