Dirk Demol summed up the mood neatly as team personnel gathered in Waregem on Tuesday afternoon for the Dwars door Vlaanderen pre-race briefing, hours after terrorist attacks at Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station in Brussels that left at least 30 people dead and more than 220 injured.
“What happened to the people in Brussels is a million times worse than cancelling a race,” the Trek-Segafredo directeur sportif told Cyclingnews.
The meeting of directeurs sportifs on the eve of the race is normally a routine affair, as teams confirm their final starting line-ups and draw lots for their place in the race convoy the following day, but it had a rather more sombre air on Tuesday afternoon.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday morning’s terrorist atrocities in Brussels, the whole of Belgium was placed on its maximum threat level of 4, and it was initially assumed that Dwars door Vlaanderen would be cancelled as a result.
By Tuesday lunchtime, however, it was announced the race was still set to go ahead, pending further consultation with police in the late afternoon. Race director Guy Delesie was in a conference call with local authorities as the last of the directeurs sportifs arrived in the town hall in Waregem, and all were understanding that the situation was beyond the control of Flanders Classics.
“I think it is not my decision, this is for the government. If they say that we are safe then the race can go on and if there is too much risk then I agree with this decision,” Etixx-QuickStep directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters said. “I think what happened today is more important than the riders.”
“If there’s not enough police to protect the race from traffic, then we can’t race and I understand fully, that’s a normal decision,” Dirk Demol said. “But I’m afraid that if they cancel the race tomorrow, then there’s no race on Saturday and Sunday either.”
With E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem to follow in the coming days – not to mention the Tour of Flanders on April 3 – there were concerns that the entire Spring Classics calendar could be affected, but BMC’s Allan Peiper placed such worries in perspective.
“I think it’s early days to start thinking about how many races will be cancelled. I think we’ve got to take it day by day,” Peiper told Cyclingnews. “We’re at level four here in Belgium, which is the highest level of alarm. We’ve just got to wait and see what the authorities say and take it as it comes. I think that everyone has had enough racing that it won’t be a major problem if a race is cancelled.”
Shortly after five o’clock, race director Guy Delesie arrived in the meeting room and, speaking in French and then in Dutch, confirmed that, as things stood, Dwars door Vlaanderen would take place on Wednesday. While the race has been given the green light for the time being, there remains a possibility that the national government might revise the decision.
“The protocol ceremonies will of course be more sober than planned and there will be a minute of silence before the start, because Belgium is in a state of mourning. Security forces in Roeselare and Waregem have said that the safety of the peloton and the fans will be assured, and the local governor is in negotiations with the ministry of Internal Affairs,” he said. “If the government in Brussels decides that we should cancel the race, we accept that decision. But otherwise Dwars door Vlaanderen will go on as scheduled.”
Southeast-Venezuela directeur sportif Serge Parsani welcomed the decision to proceed with Wednesday’s race. “It’s right that it’s going ahead,” he told Cyclingnews as he left the meeting. “An incident has taken place that we hope never repeats itself. But you need to stand up to these things, because stopping everything would only give more credibility to the people who carried out these massacres.”
Like most teams in the race, Southeast-Venezuela had a number of riders who needed to change their travel plans at the last minute, with some riders redirected to Charleroi airport and Filippo Pozzato forced to fly to Lille rather than to Brussels.
Movistar will start with just four riders, while Giant-Alpecin could line up with as few as three, or perhaps not ride at all. The team had no representative at the meeting and its status was uncertain on Tuesday evening.
Dirk Demol confirmed that all bar two of Trek-Segafredo’s team for Dwars door Vlaanderen had already arrived in Belgium, with Niccolò Bonifazio and Giacomo Nizzolo due to take a later flight to Charleroi. “Normally they will land at 10.30 in Charleroi, so that’s a two-hour transfer,” Demol said. “They will make it to the hotel at maybe 1 o’clock, but anyway, it is what it is.”
The majority of Etixx-QuickStep’s team, including Fernando Gaviria, arrived on Saturday night following Milan-San Remo, while Tony Martin arrived on Monday, with only Lukasz Wisniowski still to reach Belgium on Tuesday evening.