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Belgian amateur Niels De Vriendt dies during first post-COVID-19 race in Belgium

Niels De Vriendt (VDM Van Durme-Michiels Trawobo)
Niels De Vriendt (VDM Van Durme-Michiels Trawobo) (Image credit: VDM Van Durme-Michiels Trawobo)

Belgian cyclist Niels De Vriendt has died at the age of 20. The amateur, who rode for the VDM-Van Durm-Michiels-Trawobo CT team, was taking part in a practice race ahead of the season restart when he collapsed.

De Vriendt was racing Wortegem-Petegem at the time, and quickly received medical attention after falling ill, including 40 minutes of resuscitation efforts, but passed away. The cause of De Vriendt's death has been attributed to heart failure, according to his team.

The race was the first one to take place in Belgium since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the cycling season across Europe and was organised by the mother of Alpecin-Fenix rider Tim Merlier.

Joining the Belgian champion on the start line were Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling) and the Alpecin-Fenix duo of Otto Vergaerde and Jonas Rickaert. The race, which was 13km from the finish, was cancelled.

De Vriendt's team posted a tribute message to Facebook on Saturday afternoon.

"VDM-Trawobo Cycling Team is in deep mourning and has been hit hard by the death of our promising rider Niels De Vriendt," read the message.

"During the first race in Wortegem-Petegem, he suffered a fatal heart failure. The emergency services did everything they could to save Niels.

"The entire VDM family wishes strength to the affected family, riders and many friends of Niels. Rest in peace Niels. We will miss you."

Cyclingnews extends its condolence to the friends, family and teammates of Niels De Vriendt.

Update: Wortegem-Petegem mayor Luc Vander Meeren has spoken to Belgian television network VTM (via Wielerflits) this afternoon, announcing that there are no suspicious circumstances around De Vriendt's death, and that there would be no autopsy unless his parents request one.

"I've heard from local riders that De Vriendt just fell with no contact with a rider or third party," he said. "I'm afraid we will never find the real cause. Unfortunately for his parents, it will remain a mystery."