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25-year-old’s WorldTour dreams end in tragedy

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Mar. 28, 2016
  • Updated Mar. 28, 2016 at 11:43 AM EDT
Two days before his tragic death in Gent-Wevelgem, Antonie Demoitié rode in the breakaway at E3 Harelbeke. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Antoine Demoitié’s dreams of racing in the WorldTour turned into a nightmare Sunday when he died following a crash with a motorcycle during Gent-Wevelgem.

The 25-year-old Belgian was involved in a crash with other riders, a little more than midway through the race, and was apparently struck by a motorcycle that was braking to avoid the pileup. According to reports, the motorbike fell heavily on Demoitié, causing serious injury. He was taken to a nearby hospital, and was later airlifted to a hospital in Lille, France, where he died early Monday morning. He was 25.

“Antoine will be truly missed,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and team.”

After a promising amateur career, which included victory in the Tour de Finistere in 2014, Demoitié turned pro with Wanty – Groupe Gobert this season. He had a busy spring, racing more than 20 days, and finally realized his dream of racing in the WorldTour at E3 Harelbeke on Friday. He proudly rode into the day’s main breakaway, and started Gent-Wevelgem intent on making an impression.

Demoitié never got the chance. About 150km into the race, a pileup in the group sent riders to the ground. A motorcycle evidently landed on his head. After, his wife and family were by his side in what must have been an anguishing night.

The incident confirmed just how dangerous bicycle racing is. Racers confront myriad challenges and dangers at race speed, relying on their bike-handling skills and instinct to avoid mishap on open roads. Everyone accepts that crashing is part of the game, but the avoidable tragedies enrage many.

The International Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) voiced frustration and grief at the incident, and demanded action.

“We have always maintained that the cyclists’ safety must be first in the discussions of the different key players in cycling,” said CPA president Gianni Bugno in a statement. “We do not want to accuse anyone, but to reflect on the responsibilities of everyone to ensure that attention, awareness, and control over safety standards are maintained to a very high level.”

Riders have been killed in crashes before, but this is perhaps the first time a racer has died due to an impact with a vehicle in the race caravan.

BMC manager Jim Ochowicz said it’s simply too many riders and vehicles trying to squeeze onto the roadway.

“We’ve been having trouble with this stuff since the Phinney incident,” said Ochowicz, referring to a crash involving American star Taylor Phinney at the 2014 U.S. nationals. “There are too many cars and motorcycle, and too many bike riders. Something needs to be done.”

There was no immediate reaction from the UCI or race organizers about possible changes involving caravan vehicles, which often provide essential services such as mechanical aid, race video and photos, as well as a way for commissaires to enforce rules.

Demoitié’s family said that his organs were donated, and reportedly, three people might be able to live. Wanty – Groupe Gobert is scheduled to race Three Days of De Panne, but said it still has not made a decision on whether it will start. Right now, everyone’s thoughts are with Demoitié’s family.

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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