April 06, 2016 0 Comments
Understandably, for a second consecutive week Mark was in no mood to write about bike racing. The tragic events at Gent-Wevelgem, just days after the Brussels bombings, left the whole team devastated.
For those who are not aware, Mark’s teammate Antoine Demoitié died following a race incident. Several riders were involved in a crash. A following moto official was reportedly unable to avoid the incident, collided with the riders and his motorcycle fell on top of the 25 year old Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider. Later that night Antoine was pronounced dead in hospital, his girlfriend and family at his side.
Unable to contemplate racing, the team suspended their race programme while they tried to come to terms with their shock and grief. They withdrew from several races and regrouped as a family.
Wednesday before the Ronde von Vlaanderen, the squad gathered to recon the route. They rode 217km of the parcours together. Afterwards they shared a meal and some favourite memories of their much-loved teammate who had just days earlier realised his lifetime ambition of completing a UCI World Tour level race.
The team made a plan to return to racing at the Tour of Flanders. For many Belgians this is the most important day of the year – perhaps the most fitting opportunity to pay their respects to Antoine.
All the riders wore special black t-shirts for the team presentation in the market place of Brugge on the morning of the race. An emotional minute's silence was held in honour of Antoine. The race cars carried black ribbons on their aerials and the riders raced with black armbands as a mark of respect. Their bikes and cars each carried the motif “RideForAntoine”.
The team were determined to honour their brother in the way they know best – by racing hard. The race however was really tough, with a first hour average speed being 46kmph. Eventually a breakaway stuck. No teammate of Antoine had made it into the small group of six that slipped away up the road.
However, summoning great strength, Dimitri Claeys somehow managed to bridge across to the escapees in a heroic solo move. The break of the day did not last as a group, but Dimitri remained in the front group. And although his group were caught and passed by Fabian Cancellara and the ultimate race winner Peter Sagan, Dimiti held on, fighting all the way to the line. He even managed to contest a sprint finish.
Dimitri’s monumental effort earned him 9th place in a Monument of cycling, the eternal respect of his teammates, and the hearts of the Belgian nation.
The next day teammates, friends and family said a final farewell to Antoine, at a funeral service in the church of Les Avins, near Huy. Many spoke of his ‘permanent smile’ and how proud he was to realise his dream of racing the biggest events in cycling.
We send Mark, his teammates, and all friends and family of Antoine our deepest condolences.
Au revoir, copain.
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