A year on from his tragic death at Gent-Wevelgem, Antoine Demoitié was remembered with a minute of silence in Deinze ahead of the 2017 edition of the race. His Wanty-Groupe Gobert teammates stood on the front row of the peloton, their heads bowed, as cycling marked a doleful anniversary.
“It’s a sad anniversary. It was a black day for the team and for cycling in general,” Wanty-Groupe Gobert manager Jean-François Bourlart said. “Today is a complicated day.”
On the corresponding morning a year ago, Demoitié set out from Deinze wearing number 192, filled with enthusiasm. The 25-year-old was in his first season at Pro Continental level and had made an immediate impact. In his first WorldTour race at E3 Harelbeke, two days earlier, he had entered the day’s early break, remaining on the front deep into the race. At Gent-Wevelgem, he was eager to gain a result of his own.
Demoitié’s race ended when he crashed with four other riders at Sainte-Marie-Cappel, across the border in France, with 115 kilometres remaining. As he lay on the ground, he was struck by a following motorbike. He was taken to hospital in Lille, where he died shortly after midnight.
Twelve months on, the number 192 has been retired from the Gent-Wevelgem peloton as a mark of respect, and the official start list shows a blank space between Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (191) and Yoann Offredo (193) in the Wanty-Groupe Gobert line-up.
“We speak about it, we often speak about it on the team and among the riders,” said Bourlart. “We don’t have many of the same riders from last year in the team this year, but everybody was touched and affected by it, on the team and in cycling in general.”
A photograph of Demoitié remains in place on the window of the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team bus, and the riders’ bikes carry a sticker bearing the message '#RideForAntoine'. “We decided to do that to do that to honour Antoine and keep him in our minds,” said Bourlart, who added that there are plans to establish a campaign in Demoitié’s memory to improve road safety for cyclists. “There’s a lot to be done for security on the roads. It’s talked about a lot, but little is done to make people think and make roads safer for people on two wheels.”
Demoitié’s widow, Astrid, joined the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team as they went to sign on for the start in Deinze. “We’re often in contact with Astrid – me, directeur sportif Hilaire [Van Der Schueren] and the riders – because we experienced a tragedy together,” Bourlart said. “We’ll continue to support her and speak. Astrid likes to spend time around the team, and we’re very happy to have her with us.”
Mark McNally is one of two Wanty-Groupe Gobert riders – Simone Antonini is the other – who also featured in the Gent-Wevelgem line-up this time last year. “Like we always do, we have Antoine in our heads and our hearts,” McNally said before the start. “We’d like to show something for him today.”
Within 15 kilometres, McNally was up the road as part of the day’s early break, with Antoine Demoitié in mind.