One day after the accident which cost the life of Antoine Demoitié, his teammates and those who guided him have paid tribute to the 25-year old in an emotional press conference.
Demoitié crashed during Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem and was then hit by a race motorbike after the driver was unable to avoid the collision.
He was taken immediately to University Hospital in Lille but passed away some time later.
“The day started with the news that Thomas Degand broke his elbow in the Volta a Catalunya, then the news that Simone Antonini sustained a hand fracture in Gent-Wevelgem. After that, this all happened,” said directeur sportif Hilaire Van Der Schueren, who was guiding the team in the race.
“Antoine called me on the radio for bottles – his last words. I gave them and was called to a second group. I asked the commissaire to pass the group and then it happened.
“Our mechanic was the first to see Antoine and he immediately called me. At that moment I thought Antoine was dead but the ambulance was there straight away and he was airlifted to hospital. There was hope until the organization of Gent-Wevelgem asks me for contact details of Antoine’s next of kin. Then you know it’s very serious.”
Van Der Schueren was speaking at a Monday evening press conference held in De Panne. He and the others present were shaken and are still coming to terms by what happened.
“After the race I immediately left for the hospital in Lille,” he continued. “I met Antoine’s father who told me the doctors didn’t have much hope. After midnight we received the news that Antoine had died.
“We must process this together. This Wednesday we do a recon of Tour of Flanders together and then we eat together. We will talk about Antoine a lot.”
The team will continue with its participation in the big WorldTour Classic, but has confirmed that it will miss three other races.
Team rider Roy Jans explained the reason and also gave a perspective from Demoitié’s teammates.
“We were very shaken on Sunday night. We read Antoine was dead but Hilaire assured us the situation was very serious but that Antoine hadn’t died,” he said. “This morning the definitive news came.
“As riders we decided together that we can’t ride De Panne. It’s too early. We don’t have 100% focus at the moment. We need time to process this but first let it even sink in what happened.”
They will also scratch their participation in this upcoming weekend’s Route Adélie de Vitré and Paris-Camembert.
Demoitié had been due to compete in both of those events.
At this point in time investigations into the accident are continuing. The team press officer José Been has already said that it doesn’t consider the motorbike driver to be responsible; indications are that he tried what he could to avoid the collision but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The situation is being looked into by the gendarmerie in Hazebrouck, France. Van der Schueren has been called as a witness.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert team manager Jean-François Bourlart said that he had been impressed by Demoitié’s showing in his first season with the squad.
“Antoine joined Wanty-Groupe Gobert this season and wanted to ride WorldTour races. Every time we spoke with each other, he only spoke about that,” he said.
That dream was realised last week. “Last Friday, he rode his first WorldTour race: E3 Harelbeke,” he explained. “He was part of the day’s breakaway and climbed the Taaienberg with the best. He was very proud of himself and we couldn’t have been more proud of him.
“On Sunday, the incredible happened, the inconceivable. We can’t believe it. We are angry. After Rob Goris, Antoine is the second rider we have had to let go. We cry and we think of his wife Astrid and his family.”