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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Team Veranda’s Willems-Crelan will continue its season Wednesday in the Brabantse Pijl despite Michael Goolaerts’s death in Paris-Roubaix.
The 23-year-old crashed and died of cardiac arrest Sunday evening. Teammate Wout van Aert raced to 13th, but without celebration.
Now the team will try to race ahead in the mid-week Belgian race. Even those riders not participating will attend to remember Goolaerts.
“It has been and remains unreal,” van Aert said on his website.
Goolaerts and van Aert are from the same area near Antwerp, Belgium. Van Aert was born just a few months after Goolaerts in 1994.
“So we have been together for a long time, albeit as competitors. I remember Michael as an ever-cheerful guy, never bad-tempered and always extremely motivated, a barrel full of talent.”
Van Aert should have been celebrating a successful spring campaign when he finished Paris-Roubaix in 13th. Instead, the three-time cyclocross world champion ended it sadly with the death of his teammate.
It was van Aerts’ first spring campaign in the big classics. He placed third in Strade Bianche, 10th in Gent-Wevelgem and ninth in the Tour of Flanders before taking on the Roubaix cobbles. Just after he finished, his sport director told him the sad news.
“I had worked weeks to Paris-Roubaix — my favorite cobbled classic — I wanted to finish a strong spring on the road in style,” van Aert continued.
“It is unfortunately completely different: all results of the past spring disappear with the death of our teammate Michael Goolaerts. I close my road campaign with a very bitter aftertaste.”
Van Aert made the favorites group behind eventual winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who attacked solo and rode clear with Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale). Van Aert, who is used to dominating the cyclocross world, rode along with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac), and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).
A puncture saw him slip from that group and left him to fight for 13th. The celebration of that result and the spring season’s ride vanished quickly when sport director Michiel Elijzen arrived.
Elijzen wanted to tell the riders the news that Goolaerts suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care at the Lille hospital before they had to hear it from the journalists in the velodrome.
The sport director and mechanic stopped immediately when they saw Goolaerts on the left side of the second cobbled sector with around 150 kilometers to race. The mechanic took his wrist and Elijzen held his head. They talked to him in the brief moments while the doctors began performing CPR. They then raced away, hoping for the best.
“Have I been selfish by going back in course? And by thinking that we could win with Wout van Aert?” Elijzen told Algemeen Dagblad.
“The practical, business, and emotional was all mixed up. Another 25 cobbled strips arrived. It was a bizarre roller coaster. I told the riders only that he had fallen. If someone breaks a leg, I would not say that either.”
After the brief moment in the velodrome, the riders returned to their hotel in Belgium for a quiet dinner.
“At 11:10, the coach of the team called me from the hospital. You sink through the ground, but I am also one of the managers and I had to bring the news to the riders and the staff,” Elijzen said.
Said van Aert, “Paris-Roubaix was also Michael’s dream race. On Wednesday, we went with the team to explore the ‘Hell of the North’. Michael rode with enthusiasm. Also during the course. After the early escape went, we talked [to] each other.
“The team management made the decision not to inform me and I think that was the right choice. Everyone was still in the dark about Michael’s condition at the time, and the hope that things were going well remained intact for a long time.
“We kept hoping for a positive signal. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The ‘Hell of the North’ leads to paradise is Paris-Roubaix’s slogan, but I don’t know what to think now.”
Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) won the Brabantse Pijl in 2017. Van Aert is not expected to race. The organizer will hold a minute’s silence for Goolaerts.