Crashes are an occupational hazard in the life of the professional cyclist and that risk is amplified still further when the action moves to the cobbles of Flanders, but even allowing for that caveat, Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen was a notably incident-strewn race.
The most high-profile crashes were the near identical incidents involving Lars Boom (Astana) and Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) whose wheels slipped from under them in at more or less the same spot on the rain-soaked descent of the Paterberg. For good measure, the television motorbike following Boom also slid off the road on the same patch of wet, muddy tarmac.
There was particular frustration for Boom, who was in the process of soloing across to the winning break, having already made up 30 seconds of his one-minute deficit after impressively punching his way clear of the chasers on the preceding climb, the Oude Kwaremont.
Boom managed to pick himself and ride to the finish line in Waregem, where he immediately sought the sanctuary of his Astana bus after the race, but the team later confirmed to Cyclingnews that the Dutchman had not suffered any lasting injury in the incident.
Devolder, too, recovered sufficiently to make his way with a bloodied face to the finish in Waregem, where he was taken to hospital for further assessment. His Trek Factory Racing team later reported that he had suffered no broken bones in the crash, though he has sustained an injury to the same elbow he fractured in a crash at last year’s Tour of Flanders.
More worrying, however, was a statement by directeur sportif Dirk Demol on the team website, which suggested that Devolder had briefly lost consciousness as a result of the crash, yet was allowed to remount his bike and ride to the finish.
“For Stijn to finish was incredible!" Demol said. “I don’t think many other riders in the peloton would even attempt to get back on the bike; his whole entire left side is damaged, and he was very dizzy - he may have been unconscious for a bit. But he said, ‘no, I go on, I try to finish the race.’ Yeah, he’s a tough guy. I hope though he’s not too bad. We may have to skip [E3] Harelbeke, but hopefully that is all. We shall see.”
The most worrying incident of all had taken place earlier in the race, when Marcel Aregger (IAM Cycling) was knocked unconscious in a crash in the main peloton. The sight of the young Swiss rider prone on the ground prompted his teammates Dries Devenyns and Aleksjs Saramotins to abandon immediately in shock, though mercifully, Aregger regained consciousness shortly afterwards.
IAM Cycling directeur sportif Eddy Seigneur admitted that the incident had brought back memories of the tragic death of Fabio Casartelli on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet at the 1995 Tour de France.
“Images of Fabio Casartelli flashed through my mind,” Seigneur said. “Marcel was lying face down on the pavement without giving any signs of life. Emergency medical rescuers attended him with all precautions. His face was very bloodied due to the injury to his eyebrow, but then he gave encouraging signs. He managed to move all his limbs.”
Aregger sustained a broken collarbone and a head injury in the incident, which also forced his teammate Jerome Pineau out of the race. “There was constant nervousness. I was trying to get away in the break. And all of a sudden a rider from Saxo stopped with a broken wheel. I didn’t notice in time, and ran into him with full force at high speed. I finished my race in the ditch,” he said.
LottoNL-Jumbo also lost three riders – Jos van Emden, Mike Teunissen and Bertjan Lindeman – and there were similar tales of woe on virtually every bus parked along the finishing straight on Waregem’s Verbindingsweg on Wednesday afternoon. Myriad are the perils of Flanders and its classics.