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Wanty team vows to come back for Flanders

DE PANNE, Belgium (VN) — Stricken by grief, Wanty – Groupe Gobert riders decided not to race Three Days of De Panne this week, but vow to start Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) this weekend in honor of their fallen teammate.

The tragic death of Antoine Demoitié overnight from a crash at Gent-Wevelgem left the Professional Continental team too shaken to race the four-stage, three-day race across western Flanders set to start Tuesday.

After family members supported the idea that the team should carry on, team staffers left it to the riders to decide. Roy Jans, speaking on behalf of his teammates, said no one was in the mood to race.

“We decided it was not the correct moment to race and to be fighting for position because we don’t have the focus for that right now,” Jans said during an emotional press conference. “When we come back, we want to race and focus 100 percent to get that victory for Antoine.”

Wanty sport director Hilaire Van der Schueren said the team will preview the Flanders course Wednesday, and give the riders a few days to absorb the tragic loss of their 25-year-old teammate, who was crushed by a motorcycle during a crash Sunday at the Belgium classic.

“The riders are really struggling with this, and they decided they were not ready to race. We respect that decision,” Van der Schueren said. “On Wednesday, we will do a recon on Flanders, then return to hotel. We will have a long talk about Antoine. The only way to overcome with this tragedy is to do it together as a team.”

Demoitié was scheduled to race a pair of French Cup events before going into the Ardennes races later this month.

“Antoine had a very clear plan about being ready for Flèche Wallonne,” Van der Schueren said. “That was his ‘home race’ because he is from the Liège area. He was so proud to have made his WorldTour debut Friday at E3 Harelbeke. He was so happy to be on this team. He was also smiling and happy about racing his bike. This is such a tough loss for everyone.”