Photo by Luca Tedeschi/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At 51 years old, Davide Rebellin’s racing career is finally over

After 30 years as a professional, the controversial Italian is hanging up his wheels. Sort of.

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Over the past few weeks we’ve seen some of the biggest names in our sport hang up their wheels. Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Philippe Gilbert – all have now completed their final races as professionals.

Joining that trio this past weekend, though, was a rider with more experience than any of those three giants of the sport. A rider who amassed a staggering 30 years as a professional before calling it quits.

In Sunday’s second edition of the Veneto Classic, a third-tier one-day race in Italy’s hilly north east, local rider Davide Rebellin pinned on a number for the very last time, aged 51.

Rebellin at his final team presentation on Sunday.

Rebellin had come into the race expecting an emotional day on his local roads.

“I am happy to have this great opportunity to say goodbye and to thank everyone with a race that will take place on my roads,” Rebellin said via a team press release on the eve of the race. “It will be 190 very special kilometers, during which emotions are sure to come out for me. I will have the opportunity and the time to look back on the good and bad times that have characterised my career, but also to take advantage of the support of my supporters.”

And Rebellin started the final UCI Europe Tour event of the season feeling positive about his own prospects.

“I feel good, I’m in good condition, and the course is one I like: with lots of ups and downs, cobblestones and gravel,” he said. “In short, I will be at the start to have fun and to be competitive until the end. I think it’s the best way to end my career or at least that’s what I always wanted.”

Rebellin at the start on Sunday.

Marc Hirschi ultimately took the spoils on the day, bridging to a leading duo on a beautiful but steep gravel climb 10 km from the finish, before going it alone to the finish. Not long after Hirschi posted up on the cobblestones in Bassano del Grappa, his teammate Davide Formolo joined him at the finish, making it a convincing 1-2 for UAE Team Emirates.

Four minutes later, Rebellin crossed the line as the top finisher from his Italian Continental team Work Service Vitalcare Vega, a respectable 30th place.

“Thus ends a beautiful adventure, full of strong emotions and wonderful memories that I will carry forever with joy in my heart,” Rebellin posted later on Instagram. “Thanks to all of you and to all those who accompanied me from the first pedal stroke.”

Rebellin began his professional career way back in 1992, long before much of today’s peloton was born. He compiled a career of considerable success – through the 2000s he was one of the world’s best one-day Classics riders, taking victories at Flèche Wallone three times, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Amstel Gold Race, among many others. He was also a proven performer in one-week stage races, winning Tirreno-Adriatico in 2001 and Paris-Nice in 2008, and claimed a stage of the Giro d’Italia back in 1996. In all, he managed 61 victories.

But Rebellin’s career was not without its lowlights. In April 2009 the Italian was banned for two years after an anti-doping test from the 2008 Beijing Olympics revealed the presence of CERA, a type of EPO. Rebellin was stripped of his silver medal from the road race and spent a couple seasons on the sidelines.

While Rebellin’s early career was mostly spent riding for the top teams in the sport (what we now know as WorldTour teams), he’d never make it back to the top tier when he returned from his suspension in 2011. From 2013 to 2016 he rode for the second-tier Polish outfit CCC Sprandi Polkowice, before riding with a bunch of Continental teams from 2017 through to his final season.

Rebellin winning for CCC Sprandi Polkowice on the uphill finish to stage 3 of the 2015 Tour of Turkey, aged 43.

Rebellin’s career looked to be over in September 2021, aged 50, when he fractured his leg at the Memorial Marco Pantani. But Rebellin was determined not to let an injury dictate when he stopped racing – he battled back through a long rehabilitation process to rejoin the pro peloton in June 2022.

“I didn’t want to end my career with a double leg fracture,” Rebellin told Marca earlier this year. “I really wanted to compete, give the maximum and get good results. I am also not only a cyclist, but also the father of my teammates. I want to help them and pass on my experience.”

Rebellin’s last victory came back in 2017, on stage 5 of the Tour of Iran (Azarbaijan), but his results have been far from embarrassing in the years since. Just last season he managed three top-10 finishes in UCI 2.1 stage races, and as recently as June this year, he was 11th overall at the UCI 2.1 Adriatica Ionica Race in his home country.

Rebellin in action at the 2000 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race he’d win in 2004. (Photo by Lars Ronbog/FrontzoneSport via Getty Images)

Rebellin concludes his career as a polarising figure. He’s a rider who has entertained his many fans for three decades now, winning some of the world’s biggest races along the way. To some, he’ll forever be a drug cheat whose career isn’t worth celebrating. To others, though, he’s a curiosity – a rider whose love for the sport has allowed him to race into his 50s at a time when the sport’s best are getting younger and younger.

And as you might expect for a man who has steadfastly refused to retire for so long, Rebellin isn’t leaving cycling behind entirely now that his road racing days are over.

“Cycling will continue to be part of my life and my daily life,” he said via the Workservice Vitalcare Vega Facebook page. “I will devote myself to the development project that we have undertaken with [team bike sponsor] Dynatek and to gravel bike races [Rebellin recently finished 39th in the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships – ed.]

“There will be races. I still love pedaling and I want to keep doing it, but in a different way”.

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