By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar
The riders of the Tour of Qatar, team staff and press gathered at the Doha Ritz-Carton on Thursday afternoon to mourn the death of Frederiek Nolf. Thursday's stage was shortened to about 30 kilometres, and the riders, who wore black arm bands in honour of Nolf, did not contest the race. The 21-year-old Belgian of Team Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator died in his sleep of a suspected heart attack Thursday early morning.
The Qatar Cycling Federation hosted the service where nearly 400 people gathered to pay their respects. Present were all 17 teams of the Tour of Qatar, including the seven members of the Topsport Vlaanderen team.
Cyclist Sven Renders spoke on behalf of all Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator teammates:
Yesterday we had so much fun
And now, suddenly, you are not here
We don't understand it
We will always miss you.
A representative rider and director sportif of each team placed team jerseys and flowers near the bike of Nolf. Riders included Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen and Bradley Wiggins; staff included Johnny Weltz, Wilfried Peeters and Serge Parsani.
The Belgian Quick Step team was especially affected by the loss of its compatriot. "Many of our athletes and staff knew Frederiek personally. The news of his death has left us all in shock," said team director Wilfried Peeters.
Tom Boonen, the race's current overall leader, spoke on behalf of the team. "When something this awful happens, racing becomes a lesser priority. We're all devastated. We all knew Frederiek, and we all appreciated him. Today we wanted to remember him. Tomorrow the race will resume, but it won't be the same. The entire team, riders and personnel, feel his family's pain."
President of Qatar Cycling Federation, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Thani, pledged to honour Nolf in stage five of the 2010 Tour of Qatar with a commemorative trophy.
"It is of great sadness for us," said the secretary general of the Qatari Olympic Committee, Sheikh Saud Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani. "The Government of Qatar, along with the cycling federation, gives our deepest sympathy to you – he was one of your colleagues – to his family, the government of Belgium and his country's ambassador.
"I have the power from Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to do whatever is possible to make this go as smoothly as it can."
Belgium's consulate to Qatar prepared the paperwork in French and Flemish so that Nolf's body can travel tomorrow from Qatar to Brussels, via Paris. Doctors will perform an autopsy in Belgium.
Nolf joined the professional cycling ranks in 2008 with Team Topsport Vlaanderen. The Tour of Qatar was his first race of the 2009 season. He finished 90th in Wednesday's 141-kilometre stage four to Madinat Al Shamal, which Mark Cavendish won.