A Belgian cyclist died Sunday after he collapsed while riding in the difficult one-day Paris-Roubaix race in northern France.
Michael Goolaerts, a 23-year-old cyclist with Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team, was airlifted to a hospital in Lille, near the Belgian border, where he died “of cardiac arrest,” the team said in a statement, adding that he was “in the presence of his family members and loved ones.” Goolaerts was a little less than halfway through the 257-kilometer race when he was found unconscious and not breathing at the side of the road on one of the race’s iconic cobbled sections. TV images showed him on the ground with his arms crossed and no other riders nearby, according to France24. Video appeared to show him receiving CPR from medics at the scene, according to the BBC.
The team planned “no further communication as we want to give his close ones time to deal with this terrible loss.”
The race, often called the “Hell of the North,” goes from north of Paris to Roubaix and consists of 29 cobbled sections. It covers rugged and often muddy terrain, with cyclists using special bike frames and tires because flats and mechanical problems often occur.
Goolaerts, who was in his fourth season with Veranda’s Willems-Crelan, spent 2013 and 2014 with them at the continental level, and returned in 2017 after a season as a trainee with Belgian World Tour team Lotto-Soudal. That year, he won the opening stage of the 2016 Tour du Loir-et-Cher on the UCI Europe Tour. He rode several of the cobbled classics and semi-classics this season. He was riding in his first Paris-Roubaix race for senior competitors after riding in the under-23 version three years ago
His death stunned the cycling community.
(“My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Michael Goolaerts,” Contador’s statement reads. “Since the end of the race I have not stopped thinking about him.”)
David Lappartient, president of cycling’s world governing body the UCI, said in a statement: “On behalf of the UCI and the cycling family as a whole, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family, team and loved ones of Michael Goolaerts, who left too early. We share their immense sadness.”
The 160-mile race continued with Slovakia’s three-time world champion Peter Sagan winning, and a cycling official later defended the decision not to stop the event.
“Unfortunately, there have been a lot of heavy falls in the past and will continue to be in the future,” UCI commissaire Philippe Marien, who was not at the race, told Cycling Weekly. “In these times, however, media such as Twitter quickly gives news or opinions, even if they are not always well founded. The criticism that the race went on, I find this rather cheap because everyone remained in the dark about the fate of Michael until 23:30. …
“Stopping the race as you can stop a football match with one whistle is not that simple. It is not that you can just pull the plug from the stadium. There is a whole organization behind it, the public roads have been shut down and thousands of spectators are on the road.”
A year ago, the Hagen Berman Axeon team lost 21-year-old Chad Young after he suffered injuries during a crash in the Tour of the Gila, according to Cycling Weekly. That team tweeted condolences to Goolaerts’s team on Sunday: “Terrible, awful news. Our deepest heartfelt condolences to you and Michael’s family and friends.”
Two years ago, Belgian cyclist Daan Myngheer, died at the age of 22, two days after having a heart attack on the Criterium International in Corsica. And Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt died in a crash during the third stage of the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
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