Oliver Naesen's participation in the Tour of Flanders is in doubt after he injured his left knee in a crash during a rain-soaked edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. The Belgian champion was a faller after 75 kilometres and abandoned the race shortly afterwards.
Naesen was taken to hospital in Ghent to undergo X-rays on his knee immediately after the race finished in Waregem. AG2R La Mondiale directeur sportif Julien Jurdie was pessimistic about his prospects of recovering in time to line out at De Ronde on Sunday.
"Oli is gone with the doctor to get X-rays at the hospital. He's complaining a lot about his knee so obviously there's a big question mark over his participation in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday," Jurdie said.
"Honestly, and I really hope I'm wrong, but I'm quite pessimistic for Sunday. The doctor is pessimistic too. We'll just have to wait for the result of the X-ray. I really hope I'm wrong."
Naesen spoke briefly before leaving for the hospital, and explained that he was unable to take evasive action when a rider crashed just in front of him. "There was a crash in front of me, and I couldn't avoid it. I fell on my knee," he said.
The X-ray showed no fractures, but in a statement on Wednesday evening, the AG2R La Mondiale team said that a decision on his presence at the Ronde will only be taken closer to the weekend. “He is suffering with cuts and bruises," read the statement. "His participation in the Tour of Flanders will be confirmed in the next 48 hours depending on how his injury evolves.”
Although Naesen quickly remounted and re-joined the peloton, it was soon apparent that he would be unable to continue in the Dwars door Vlaanderen. On the AG2R La Mondiale team, Naesen has a reputation as something of a stoic, and Jurdie realised the crash was more serious than he first thought when he heard the Berlare native speak over the radio of pain in his knee.
"Oli's not the kind of guy who complains, so if Oli is complaining that's not good news. That's what worries me," Jurdie said. "It's the first thing I thought when I heard him speaking over the radio. That's why I'm quite worried for his participation in the Ronde on Sunday.
"After the crash, he got back on the bike and chased back on straight away. We spoke on the radio and then we spoke more when I got up to him. He had significant pain in his knee so he preferred not to continue. It was better to go get treatment as soon as possible."
Naesen enjoyed a break-out Classics campaign in his first season at AG2R La Mondiale in 2017, when he placed third at E3 Harelbeke. The Belgian was in the mix for a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders until he was brought down in crash with Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet over the top of the Oude Kwaremont.
Despite breaking his nose in a crash at the Ruta del Sol in February, Naesen told Cyclingnews earlier this month that he had set personal records for power output during Paris-Nice, and he arrived at the cobbled Classics buoyed by his performances last season and the Belgian champion's jersey on his back.
Naesen was already caught up in crash at E3 Harelbeke on Friday, though he recovered to place 4th, and he underlined his pre-Tour of Flanders form with a 6th place finish at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Now his presence on Belgian cycling’s day of days is most uncertain after a seemingly banal incident.
"It was just one of those things," Jurdie said. "There wasn't a lot of stress in the race at that moment, but it's the kind of crash that unfortunately happens a lot in a peloton, and especially in Flemish races."
A cruel business, the Classics.