Lotto Soudal said on Thursday there was "some slight optimism" about the condition of Gerben Thijssen, who crashed with another rider during the Gent Six Day and suffered a head injury, fractured ribs and a broken collarbone.
The 21-year-old collided at speed with 19-year-old Oliver Wulff Frederiksen and knocked unconscious in the opening night's Madison. Thijssen was attended to behind privacy screen on the track infield before being transported to a nearby hospital where he was diagnosed with three small haemorrhages on his brain.
He was kept in the intensive care unit overnight, and today the Lotto Soudal team said he was able to have a "small conversation" with his family members.
Thijssen's teammate in the race had a more positive outlook. "Gerben will not sustain any lasting damage to his fall," Moreno De Pauw told Het Nieuwsblad. “I called his mom and I also received positive messages from his girlfriend [rider Shari Bossuyt - ed.]. That is quite reassuring. I can't get the image of him completely collapsed on the track out of my mind. Gerben is also a friend. You know that an accident can always happen, but it is still intense."
After Thijssen's crash, the riders were in shock and organisers cancelled the remainder of the opening night's programme, but after the second day, the racers of the Gent Six Day continued racing with enthusiasm.
Race goes on without @Thijssen_Gerben in Gent. Fortunately there is some slight optimism. Less than 18h after his terrible crash, Gerben was able to have a small conversation with his family. Keep fighting, Gerben :muscle: :camera_with_flash: Photonews. #ghent6day #zesdaagsegent #lottosoudal pic.twitter.com/kkU3B5qGHyNovember 13, 2019
"Everyone was shocked, but we are going full steam ahead again. Gerben would be angry if we had to restrain ourselves," Kenny De Ketele said to Het Nieuwsblad.
The Lotto Soudal riders have had more than their share of misfortune in recent years. The team is still mourning the death of Bjorg Lambrecht who died in a crash during stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne in August.
The Belgian squad have had two other riders – Stig Broeckx and Kris Boeckmans – suffer near-fatal crashes, in the 2016 Baloise Belgium Tour and the 2015 Vuelta a España, respectively. Broeckx was in a coma for more than six months but has recovered enough to ride casually. Boeckmans was kept in an induced coma for two weeks due to multiple injuries but returned to racing the next season.
Tosh van der Sande, racing in the Gent Six Day with Jasper De Buyst, said mistakes can happen very suddenly on a technical track such as the steep 166m one at 't Kuipke.
"I was shocked," he said. "At Lotto Soudal we have experienced enough with Kris Boeckmans, Stig Broeckx and especially the death of Bjorg Lambrecht. It all came up again."
Cavendish explains his crash
Thijssen's fall was preceded by an equally dramatic but less serious crash by Mark Cavendish, who slid out on a turn while doing the one-lap team time trial with partner Iljo Keisse.
Cavendish sat out the rest of the night but returned to racing on Wednesday. He said the cause of his crash was "complicated".
"I have a new position on the bike and when I came out of the corner I was too low and I couldn't get the bike up again," he said to Het Nieuwsblad. "A pity, but luckily it's not too bad. I've had a concussion and since then I am scared of falling on my head. But I had a good night and just a few grazes."
He said he was going to keep fighting for the overall win despite still suffering from his crash.
"I'm really going to give everything. I became emotional when I saw my photo in 't Kuipke after my victory in 2016. This is what I dreamed of as a little boy when I rode here with the U23's. So I won't give up."
World champions Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt lead the race after night 2 with 59 points and one lap up on De Ketele and Robbe Ghys, who have 91 points. Cavendish and Keisse are down in fifth with 58 points, one lap behind the leaders.
The second night saw another dramatic crash in the paralympic "G-Sport" events when Kris Bosmans and Diederick Schelfhout crashed over the upper railing into the stands. Bosmans suffered a complex fracture to his femur and underwent surgery, while Shelfhout fractured a vertebra. One spectator was injured in the incident.