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Dwars expected to go on despite terror fears

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Mar. 22, 2016
  • Updated Mar. 24, 2016 at 9:29 AM EDT
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).

Officials from Dwars door Vlaanderen plan to push ahead with Wednesday’s race despite a pair of deadly terrorists attacks that left dozens dead and wounded in the heart of Brussels.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dwars door Vlaanderen officials confirmed that, while Belgian security officials will have the final say, the plan is to conduct the race as scheduled Wednesday. The would come only one day after terror attacks killed dozens and injured many more at the Brussels airport and a nearby metro rail station.

“Security forces in Roeselare [start] and Waregem [finish] assured that the safety of the peloton and the fans will be assured,” said organizer Guy Delesie. “And the local governor is in negotiations with the ministry of Internal Affairs. If the government in Brussels decides that we should cancel the race, we accept that decision. But otherwise, Dwars door Vlaanderen will go on as scheduled.”

Officials said riders will pay their respects to the victims and their families at the start with a minute of silence, and the podium ceremony “will be adapted to the tragic circumstances,” a press release stated.

A final decision will be made Wednesday morning based on input from Belgian security officials.

Riders and staffers are still scrambling to arrive. With one of the terrible attacks occurring at the main Brussels airport, a handful of riders likely will not be able to reach Belgium it time for the race. The airport will also be shut down Wednesday, but might re-open Thursday.

“All the teams are here, except Giant – Alpecin,” race spokesman Guy Vermeiren told VeloNews. “They only have three riders, and might not start. There are a few other teams who might be a rider or two short if they cannot make it. All the other teams are ready to go.” Giant – Alpecin, already stretched thin due to injuries, was planning on starting with six instead of eight riders, including American Chad Haga, who is returning to racing following his training crash in January in Spain. The team confirmed on Twitter that it would not race.

Movistar is another team that has been unable to get all of its riders to Belgium, and only four arrived by Tuesday evening.

Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen is the unofficial opening of the Flanders classics, and officials hope the deadly terrorists attacks will not derail the highly popular one-day races. Up next are E3 Harelbeke on Friday, and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. The 100th anniversary of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) is set for April 3.

One official said there are no plans to cancel any of the other races. “If the race goes on as planned tomorrow, the other races should be OK. Let’s see what happens [Wednesday].”

The news hit home for Belgian riders across the peloton. Racing in Spain in the Volta a Catalunya, Belgian star Philippe Gilbert (BMC) said he was shocked and saddened to hear the news before the start of the second stage Tuesday.

“It’s very scary. I just hope that the politicians and the police can work on this,” Gilbert told reporters. “I was sending messages in the morning, and the first thing you want to know, is that you hope none of your family or friends are involved. It was a real shock. It was not easy to see the news.”

Officials from the UCI said they were in contact with race organizers and teams, and said their priority is the “safety of riders, their staff, and fans.”

“We spent the day contacting organizers and teams, and are closely monitoring the situation,” the UCI said in a statement. “Our priority is the safety of riders, their staff and fans. In this respect, whatever the circumstances, we are in close collaboration with all our event organizers and their local authorities throughout the year.”

Spanish rider Vincent Reynes (IAM Cycling) told Spanish radio Cadena SER he arrived at Belgium’s secondary airport at Charleroi, about 50km south of Brussels, just about the same time the attacks unfolded in Brussels.

“It was scary at the airport, because the military were checking all the cars for bombs. It was very tense,” Reynes said. “People were nervous, and the phones were not working. It was very scary. Everyone was afraid in the parking area because they said there could be bombs, and everyone was very nervous.”

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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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