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Broeckx crash cast pall over Lotto – Soudal’s season

Stig Broeckx was left with serious brain injuries after a crash during the Tour of Belgium in May.

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Tragedy on the bike overshadowed an otherwise largely successful season for Lotto – Soudal in 2016.

Team boss Marc Sergeant said the crash that left Stig Broeckx with serious brain injuries during the Tour of Belgium cast a pall over the entire season.

“[The crash] is a jet-black page in the history of our team and in my career as a manager,” Sergeant said in a team review of 2016. “This incident has deeply marked all the riders and the staff members.”

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The 26-year-old Belgian was among several riders struck by motorcycles during the second stage at the Tour of Belgium in late May. He was transported to a hospital with serious head injuries and later put into an induced coma. By early June his life was no longer in danger, but he suffered a permanent brain injury, and continues to fight for a full recovery.

“Stig will always be one of us no matter what,” Sergeant said. “Together with his girlfriend, family, and doctors we hope that, by taking small steps, he will be able to lead a decent life, as his parents communicated earlier.”

The past few seasons have been plagued with riders getting struck by race vehicles, including several high-profile incidents in 2015 and 2016. Lotto rider Kris Boeckmans suffered a horrible crash at the 2015 Vuelta, but he bounced back and returned to racing.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2016, resulting in the death of Wanty – Groupe Gobert rider Antoine Demoitié during Gent-Wevelgem. Broeckx was struck down in an incident at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, when a motorcycle hit him. He returned to racing and finished seventh at the Tour of Turkey just weeks before the dreadful crash in Belgium.

Sergeant said despite the heavy shadow of Broeckx’s crash, the team managed to achieve some of its most important goals. While admitting the team was flat in both the spring classics and the Vuelta a España, it won three stages at the Giro d’Italia with André Greipel, and two in the Tour de France — Greipel on the Champs-Élysées and Thomas De Gendt on the wind-shortened Mont Ventoux stage.

“The two stage wins in the Tour de France are without any doubt the highlights of the past season. If, as a team, you can chose two stages you would like to win, it are certainly these two,” Sergeant said. “Since 2011, we won at least one stage in the Tour, a beautiful result.”

For 2017, the team brings five new riders, including three rookies along with Nikolas Maes (from Etixx – Quick-Step) and Moreno Hofland (LottoNL – Jumbo). Greg Henderson (to UnitedHealthCare), Pim Ligthart (Roompot – Nederlandse), and Gert Dockx all depart.