The third stage of the Tour of Belgium started out unspectacularly on May 28, 2016, but halfway through the world turned upside down. Two race motorcycles collided, and both flew into the peloton, with disastrous results.
Numerous riders were injured but worst off was Stig Broeckx of Lotto Soudal, who suffered severe head injuries. Cofidis rider Loic Chetout was on the spot and put his school first-aid training to use, stabilizing Broeckx's head until help arrived.
"I saw drama and chaos that day. I saw Stig in a very bad condition," he told Sporza.be. The two did not know each other, but that was not a consideration for the Frenchman.
"One sometimes asks me how I knew what to do, but first aid is a compulsory school course in France. It was a reflex. We did not wear the same jersey, we did not belong to the same team, but at such times the race does not count and you think of another's life."
Broeckx had two bleeds on the brain and fell into a coma. Initial fears for his life were soon replaced by fears he would never come out of a vegetative state. Miraculously he started showing signs of life in September and by December was officially declared out of a coma.
Earlier this month it was announced that he has improved so vastly that he can ride on a stationery bike, and his family hopes that he can moved home from the rehabilitation centre. They warned however, that there was no talk of resuming his career, with their highest hopes being that he simply be able to live independently.
Chetout may have played a small role but it was an important one. "Do I see myself as the savior of Stig Broeckx? I did contribute, but everyone would have done the same in my place. The doctors helped me, but they said it was one of the reasons that he is now recovered. "I did not think he would rehabilitate so well after the first few weeks. It's a miracle. I did not know him before the accident, but now it's very good to see him improve."
Chetout, 24, abandoned the race as of that stage but went on to finish the season as usual, ending with the Vuelta a Espana. He is back on full course again this year and was at the start of the Tour of Belgium again last week, but did not finish the fourth stage.
The entire experience "has also had an effect on me. I take fewer risks on the bike, in the sprint, I know what can happen. I've seen it. The bike is important, but there's also a life outside of racing."