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Casper considers suing Unibet, reflects on Kemmelberg

By Susan Westemeyer

Jimmy Casper is considering suing for contract violations after the ProTour team was downgraded for the 2008 season to Professional Continental. The reduced ranking as well as a decreased budget has prompted several riders to seek other contracts. The 29-year-old Frenchman, a serious victim of the crash in Gent-Wevelgem, faces taking a pay cut or finding new team.

"I had a contract for two years, but by the disappearance of the sponsor, I have to go look for a new team after only one year," he told "If I go to the follow-up team [Cycle Collstrop] I will have to take a forty percent pay cut. That is not fair.

"First, the sporting side was not respected, because we could not ride the ProTour races, and now the financial side is not in order. I am still negotiating, but I do not eliminate the possibility of going to court," he continued.

Hilaire Van der Schueren, sports director of Cycle Collstrop, has said that he had reached an agreement with Casper, but the French rider denied any accord. "No. There is a proposal. But whether I accept it, is something else."

"Stop the slaughter"

The noted sprinter looked back at the slaughter on the Kemmelberg, where he went face-first into the cobblestones as one of the victims of the mass crash in the Gent-Wevelgem race this past April.

It was an event that changed his life, he said. "I can now tell what is important and what is not. In the earlier days, I knew that my wife and children were the most important things in my life, but now... if I had not worn a helmet, I may have been even further behind on the Kemmelberg. Then my children wouldn't have a father now. That is not worth trying to win a race for."

The rider remembers all the details of the crash. Right in front of him, Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas swerved to avoid a fallen water bottle. The Italian stayed upright, but when Casper had to brake, "with those carbon wheels I had no chance at all."

At first, he did not think his injuries were so bad. "As I lay on the cobblestones, with the blood covering my face, I only felt tingles. No pain. When I tried to talk, I realized my tongue was torn. And in the ambulance I realized there was something wrong with my right wrist."

That "something wrong" turned out to be several fractures. "Every half-hour the diagnosis became worse: at first I had two breaks in my wrist, then three and after some more scans, it was five. One more or less, what difference does it make," he said laughing.

The facial injuries looked dramatic. While he doesn't list them, they have been variously reported as a broken nose and a broken eye orbit, as well as numerous cuts, including the torn tongue.

However, the worst was still to come. Casper was transferred to a hospital in Amiens, nearer his home. The next morning, "I had a violent pain in my wrist. They gave me pain-killers, but it just got worse. I started to scream, cry, and writhe in pain. Stop, stop, give me something, I called to the nurses. But they could do nothing because there was no doctor around. Two and a half hours later my wife and parents came to visit, and still nothing had happened. It was terrible for them to see me suffering."

Finally, a doctor appeared and gave him morphine to kill the pain. "It seems that I had a haemorrhage that pressed on the nerve. If it had gone on much longer I would have lost the feeling in my fingers."

He holds the race organisers responsible for the problems. "What can you think of organizers who continue to use the descent after so many incidents?" adding, "That is not sport, that is a slaughter.

"The UCI takes a hard stand when it comes to doping. It has to do the same when it comes to the safety of a parcours." The Kemmelberg descent may be "the monument of Gent-Wevelgem", but "it is no longer possible. If they put it on the route next year, I will post myself on the Kemmel wearing a t-shirt with a photo of the crash on it and a slogan: Stop the slaughter!"

Fans may see Casper's shirt as the race organisers announced in late November that the Kemmelberg will reappear in the 2008 edition of the Spring Classic.

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