Bjorg Lambrecht died after crashing on stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne between Chorzów and Zabrze on Monday. The 22-year-old Belgian was taken by ambulance to hospital in nearby Rybnik but his injuries were such that he passed away during an operation to try to save his life.
Lambrecht was in only his second year as a professional, enjoying a second season at WorldTour level with Belgian team Lotto Soudal. He already had one professional win under his belt – a stage of the Tour des Fjords, in Norway, in 2018 – but was widely considered to be one of Belgium's future stars of the sport, having finished second to recent Tour de France winner Egan Bernal at the 2017 Tour de l'Avenir and fourth at this year's Flèche Wallonne.
Lambrecht was born in Ghent, Belgium, on April 2, 1997, and grew up as a huge fan of the one-day Classics, many of which took place on his doorstep. The young Lambrecht was also a big fan of fellow Flandrian Tom Boonen, who won Paris-Roubaix four times and the Tour of Flanders on three occasions, and, according to L'Equipe, Lambrecht would wear the QuickStep jersey of his hero to bed as pyjamas.
In 2015, Lambrecht won the junior road-race title at the Belgian national championships, and went on to ride for the Lotto Soudal U23 development team for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, winning a stage, the overall and all the other classification jerseys at the Ronde de l'Isard stage race in 2016.
A step-up to the WorldTour
Lotto Soudal secured Lambrecht's signature for their senior team for the 2018 season following a number of further excellent results by the Belgian in 2017, including second place overall at the Tour de l'Avenir behind Bernal and victory at the under-23 version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Along with Deceuninck-QuickStep's Remco Evenepoel, who won the Clasica San Sebastian at the start of August, Lambrecht was part of what was set to be a very bright future for Belgian cycling, with such climbing abilities relatively rare in a nation more used to bringing through 'Classics hard-men' that can perform on the cobblestones of Flanders and Roubaix.
Not that the cobbles or the harsh spring weather of the Classics could ever pose any problem to a young cyclist from Ghent; Lambrecht was just more suited to the hills of the Ardennes, and, likely as his career progressed, to the high mountains of the Grand Tours in France, Spain and Italy.
Winning the white jersey as best young rider at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné in June was arguably Lambrecht's best professional result, in a race that is a traditional warm-up to the Tour de France. Up against the likes of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Lambrecht finished 12th overall, just 3:17 down on overall winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), while in the youth classification, Lambrecht finished almost 12 minutes clear of young American star Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma).
A featherweight climber, Lambrecht rode his first and only Grand Tour at the 2018 Vuelta a España. Although he didn't finish the race, pulling out in the final week, he recorded a fourth-place finish on stage 13 from Candás to La Camperona – a mountain stage with a summit finish, indicating that these were the sort of stages on which he was likely to shine in future.
He went on from last year's Vuelta to the world championships in Innsbruck, Austria, where he took the silver medal in the under-23 men's road race behind Switzerland's Marc Hirschi, who now rides for Team Sunweb.
An extremely impressive season
This season, in addition to his fourth place at Flèche Wallonne, Lambrecht had also recorded some extremely impressive spring results, taking fifth place at April's Brabantse Pijl and sixth at Amstel Gold four days later. Although he wasn't selected for either the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France this year, Lambrecht was set to again ride the Vuelta ahead of the world championships in Yorkshire, in the UK, and was using the Tour de Pologne in his build-up to the Spanish Grand Tour.
In an interview with Cyclingnews in Poland the day before his death, Lambrecht appeared to fancy his chances on the hillier stages of the Tour de Pologne, starting with Tuesday's stage 4, which will now be neutralised and ridden in the young man's memory.
"There are definite similarities between here and the Ardennes," he'd said. "If my condition is good enough, then I have a chance for a good GC, and a stage win would be really nice."
His Lotto Soudal sports director Mario Aerts had told Cyclingnews that same morning that Lambrecht was not yet at his peak, but that the team could "afford to be ambitious".
"I think stage 4 will be quite similar to how Flèche Wallonne plays out normally: everybody will get to the foot of the climb together and then we'll see what happens," Aerts had said of Lambrecht's chances.
Aerts also made a revealing comment about Lambrecht's skills as a rider, pointing to his positioning in the peloton as worthy of special mention, meaning that the youngster had no need for an older, more experienced rider to shepherd him into the right places at the right time.
"It's very impressive. Of course, we help him, but he doesn't need a lot of teammates around him – and, in fact, he doesn't even like it," Aerts explained, indicating in Lambrecht a fierce independence, but an as-equally-as-fierce ability.
A slew of heartfelt messages from his Lotto Soudal teammates on social media in the aftermath of his death showed that he was extremely well liked on the team, with Australian Adam Hansen referring to him affectionately as 'Matchbox' – presumably thanks to his diminutive size as a climber.
"I remember picking up his wallet as he would leave it many times at coffee shops," wrote Hansen. "I remember trying to locate his lost iPhone when he left it behind somewhere… Now Matchbox leaves us behind… He was a good kid..."
Cyclingnews would like to extend its condolences to Bjorg's family, friends and teammates.