The GP de Dottignies, a 1.2 UCI women’s race in Belgium, was cancelled at the last minute with riders already lined up at the start, due to a lack of sufficient motorcycle officials on Monday.
Held the day after the Tour of Flanders, the event takes place in and around Dottignies, a Walloon village about 30km from Oudenaarde, the finishing town of the Tour of Flanders, and is part of the Belgian race series Lotto Cycling Cup. Riders were set to tackle the 122km race consisting of six laps on a circuit straddling the border between Flanders and Wallonie.
Twelve WorldTour teams standing on the start line to begin the race, including the Tour of Flanders winner Marta Bastianelli, the defending champion in Dottignies, along with another thirteen teams. This reporter was at the race and watched the teams prepare for the race, sign in on the stage next to the start and finish line, and line up for the race only for it to be abruptly cancelled.
The first riders positioned themselves on the start line a full twenty minutes before the planned start time, wanting to start the race at the very front. The rest of the peloton lined up behind them, and all 157 riders were in place ten minutes before the planned start. Bars were eaten, jackets taken off, and the whole peloton was ready to race.
Two minutes before the start, an announcement was made over the loudspeakers that the start would be delayed by a few minutes as the race marshals were not in place yet. Riders put on their jackets again, some of them borrowing coats from spectators to stay warm. But at the planned start time of 2 p.m., it was instead announced that the race was cancelled altogether due to a lack of moto marshals.
After a moment of confusion, riders, staff, journalists, and spectators alike were in a state of disbelief at the sudden cancellation. Eventually, riders went back to their team vehicles to re-group. Many opted for a training ride instead of the race they had come for – some even arriving from abroad on the evening of the race.
The Lotto Cycling Cup issued a statement that “despite all the necessary preparations by the organisation Lotto Cycling Cup, the safety of riders and followers could not be sufficiently guaranteed. We guarantee to take arrangements with local organisers in the future so that this situation can no longer happen.”
A spokesperson for the local organisers, the cycling club VC Dottignies, said that the decision to cancel the race had been made by the police as a result of the fatal crash of Stef Loos during the Memorial Alfred Gadenne three weeks earlier, a men’s elite race organised by the same club. Loos collided with a van after he and two other riders had taken a wrong turn at an intersection where there was no race marshal. It was emphasised by the local organisers that the decision to cancel was taken at the last minute.
In a circuit race in Belgium, police will check the race route before the start to make sure there are marshals at every turn and intersection to guide the race and stop traffic. After Loos’ death, the authorities were careful to avoid another fatality and made the decision to cancel the race when it turned out that not all intersections were secured properly.