Shock, sadness and calls for change: Cycling world reacts to death of Antoine Demoitié

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The tragic news late Sunday night that Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié had died after sustaining severe injuries in Gent-Wevelgem was shocking for many involved in professional cycling and, indeed, for those fans following the sport.

That a 25-year old should lose his life while taking part in a sporting event is cruel, and even more so after repeated warnings in the past year that race vehicles were too close and too fast when around riders.

However, while full details are yet to emerge, his Wanty-Groupe Goubert team has dismissed suggestions that the moto driver was to blame in the matter.

“This is a tragic accident, the driver has been at least 20 years in Belgian cycling races. He is very affected by what happened, just as we all are,” team press officer José Been said in an interview with Radio 1.

“This is not a case of collision at high speed such as what happened with Peter Sagan or Stig Broeckx. This is a fatal accident, the man tried to brake and in doing so, fell on Antoine.”

Demoitié and several others fell during the race. According to NIS journalist Sebastian Timmerman, there was nothing the driver could have done.

“This was just a very unfortunate accident. Antoine Demoitié crashed with several other riders. An official motorbike that drove behind them tried to evade the riders, but it went wrong. He crashed and the motorbike landed on Antoine Demoitié.”

Speaking to HLN, he said that the driver was very experienced. He echoed Been in saying that the driver was very affected by what had happened.

Wanty-Groupe Goubert issued a brief statement on Monday morning.

“Antoine Demoitié passed away last night after a terrible accident in Gent-Wevelgem. The entire team is in disbelief, shock, angry and sad because of the loss of Antoine. Our thoughts go out to his wife, family and friends.”

It added that due to the many questions about what happened, a press conference would be held in De Panne on Tuesday evening.

An overdue catalyst for change

While this tragic accident appears to be just that, the news has nevertheless prompted a re-examination of safety in races. The spate of crashes in the past year illustrates there is a problem which needs to be addressed and many are calling on the UCI to act.

Amongst those who have expressed dissatisfaction are the riders’ association CPA.

“Regarding the terrible accident that caused the death of the rider Antoine Demoitié during the Gent-Wevelgem race the CPA and all the riders demand to shed immediately light on the accident and the circumstances that have caused it as well as on any of the responsible involved parties,” it said.

The group’s president Gianni Bugno has elaborated on that. “At this time of sadness and sorrow for the death of Antoine we do not want to make controversy, but we have so much frustration inside.

“We have always stated that the safety of the riders must be in first place in the discussions of the cycling stakeholders and at the last CCP [UCI Professional Cycling Council – ed.] meeting we have specifically asked to communicate quickly the strategies developed recently to improve security during the races.

“I do not want to accuse anyone but make everyone reflect on the responsibility we have to ensure that it is always maintained a very high level of attention, awareness, and control over safety standards during each race.”

The UCI has issued a very brief statement on the matter.

“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is extremely saddened to learn about the passing of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié of Wanty-Groupe Gobert,” it said. “The UCI will cooperate with all relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

Its president Brian Cookson added to this. “Antoine will be truly missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and team.”

However the best tribute to the rider will be to enact clear safety rules and bring about change to make the peloton safer for those racing in it.

In the meantime, many others involved in the sport have communicated their feelings via Twitter.

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