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Van Emden blames Vermeersch for Giro d'Italia stage 15 crash

Team JumboVisma rider Netherlands Jos Van Emden R and Team Cofidis rider Eritreas Natnael Berhane L sit on the ground after a massive pack crash during the 15th stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race a 147km race between Grado and Gorizia on May 23 2021 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images
Jos Van Emden (Jumbo-Visma) sits on the floor alongside Natnael Berhane (Cofidis) after the stage 15 crash (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Jos Van Emden has pointed the finger at Alpecin-Fenix rider Gianni Vermeersch for the mass crash at the start of stage 15 of the Giro d'Italia, which saw the stage neutralised shortly after the peloton left Grado.

The Jumbo-Visma veteran suffered five broken ribs and a lung contusion in the pile-up, which came on a causeway just three kilometres into the stage. The stage was delayed for half an hour and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Natnael Berhane (Cofidis) and Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-Nippo) were also forced to abandon as a result of injuries sustained in the pile-up.

Van Emden, who was riding his 10th Giro d'Italia, blamed Vermeersch for the accident in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, though the Belgian has since issued a self-defence to WielerFlits, saying that he was mid-crash before colliding with the Dutchman.

"Gianni Vermeersch just drove me off the bike," Van Emden told De Telegraaf from the university hospital in Udine, where he'll depart today for a long road trip to Genk in Belgium.

"I had already spoke to him during the race about dangerous riding. My teammate Paul Martens saw it happen. Vermeersch suddenly turned left. He probably got stuck behind my rear wheel.

"I didn't have a chance, couldn't even touch my brakes. If you're riding at 65kph or faster, you bounce on the ground. I already knew it was over when I was still in the air. The impact was enormous. They fell on top of me, so I was immediately short of breath and felt a terrible pain in my back."

Van Emden, who said that he fainted on Tuesday after sitting up in bed for the first time in two days, said that he has never had this kind of injury before, and described the extent of his rib fractures.

"Laughing and coughing is terrible," he said. 

"I have never broken any ribs before. I had an AC luxation [separated shoulder – Ed.] before but that was nothing compared to this. My ribs are now completely in half – from rib three to rib seven. It sucks."

He added that he hopes to return to racing in August, adding that the ribs should start growing back together in about eight days' time. 

The 36-year-old Dutchman noted that Vermeersch did phone him on Tuesday to talk about the crash and apologise.

"He apologised and asked how I was doing. I appreciate that," he said.

For Vermeersch's part, the Belgian told WielerFlits that his role in the crash was part of a chain reaction of events in the peloton, rather than any carelessness or dangerous riding on his own part.

"I can tell how I experienced the crash," he said. 

"A traffic jam on the left was caused by swerving and braking movements. I was hit and catapulted over my handlebars. One of Jos' teammates [Paul Martens] suspected I had snagged the rear wheel of the rider in front of me, but that was 100 per cent certain not to be the case."

He said that he had spoken to Van Emden's teammate, George Bennett, and passed on his well wishes, adding that he later spoke to the Dutchman by phone to talk the matter out between themselves.

"We had a long and calm conversation and cleared the matter up. Look, this was a crash where – as with so many – no-one can really be blamed. Unfortunately, there was no helicopter footage of the crash. That could have made things clearer."