The tragic death of Kristof Goddaert overshadowed the racing on the second day of the Tour of Oman, causing everyone at the race to reflect on the fragility of life and the risks of racing or simply training near home.
The sun shines bright almost every day in the Sultanate but the grey skies at the start in Al Bustan seemed to have gathered to silence the mood in a sign of respect and mourning.
Many riders had posted moving messages and tributes to Goddaert on Twitter before going to bed and were clearly saddened and emotional to have lost one of their own the morning after as they bravely tried to put thoughts about the risk of cycling aside and race for another day.
Last week many of the riders in the Oman peloton had rubbed shoulders with Goddaert in the echelons at the Tour of Qatar. Many were his friend and enjoyed spending time with him. He was well liked in the peloton. It was especially hard for the IAM Cycling riders, those from his former teams Ag2r-La Mondiale and Topsport Vlaanderen, and the many Belgian riders in Oman.
The IAM Cycling riders bravely decided to stay in the race despite being in shock. They wore black armbands and stood at the front of the peloton as a minute's silence was held to remember Goddaert before the stage began. Heinrich Haussler was good friends with Goddaert and was understandably in tears before the race. He had later revealed he had swapped messages with Goddaert just a few hours before his accident. He would have preferred to head home but explained that he knows Goddaert would have wanted him to carry on.
Italian IAM Cycling rider Matteo Pelucchi revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that he had shared a room with Goddaert in Qatar. Pelucchi's partner Marina Romoli was left disabled in 2010 after an accident in training.
"When we were rivals I didn’t get on with him, but when I got to really know him as a teammate I realised he was incredibly kind. We'd promised to share a room together in other races…," he said.
"We can never forget the risk of cycling. Kristof was a good bike handler but you never know what's around the corner."
Boonen remembers his Flemish friend
Tom Boonen was one of the first to hear the tragic news of Goddaert's death via a friend in the Belgian police. Both come from the northern Flanders area of Belgium. He revealed that they had planned a special moment together at the end of the Classics.
Boonen finished third in the sprint that decided the stage and was disappointed that he was unable to dedicate victory to Goddaert.
"It's always very painful when it happens close to you, especially in our sport. It seems like we have to deal with loss almost once a year," he said before the stage.
"Kristof was a guy I knew really well and I really liked him. I saw him last week in Qatar and we had a deal that we'd have a nice bottle of wine together after the Classics. It'll be a special bottle of wine now, but to remember him."
Race organiser Eddy Merckx joined the riders for the minute's silence before the start of the stage.
"He was a nice guy. He was with us last week in Qatar and then yesterday he crashed. A bus couldn't stop and now he's gone," he told Cyclingnews.
"It's such a pity. He was such a nice guy and a good teammate. But it was a fatality of life. What can you do? All we can do is remember him with respect. The riders did that today."