Following the death of rider Antoine Demoitie, Wanty-Groupe Gobert has confirmed that they will not start the Three days of De Panne on Tuesday. The team has also pulled out of two Coupe de France (Route Adélie de Vitré and Paris-Camembert) races, which Demoitie was due to race on Friday and Sunday.
The announcement was made during a press conference on Monday evening at the team's hotel in De Panne. After an emotional recounting of Sunday’s tragic events in Gent-Wevelgem from directeur sportif Hilare Van Der Scheuren, rider Roy Jans explained to the press that the emotions were too raw for the riders to consider racing at this time.
"This morning we heard the news that Antoine had died. We talked about this as a group and, of course, we were grief stricken and very sad and we decided it wasn’t the moment to ride a race and to fight for positions in the race because we don’t have any focus to do that at the moment," Jans said.
"We need a little bit more time to give us some space to realise what happened. If we race, we want to do it at 100 per cent and we want to get that victory as soon as possible to dedicate it to Antoine."
Demoitie suffered his injuries when a motorbike hit him following a crash with several other riders. Van Der Scheuren had been close by, as Demoitie had recently been on the radio requesting more bottles, and saw the incident happen. It was quickly apparent that the situation was grave but the DS had to continue in the race and was unable to get to the hospital until after the race had finished. After meeting with Demoitie’s family, Van Der Scheuren decided that they would allow the family to make the decision regarding competing at De Panne.
"It’s a hard to face your riders at that particular moment," a very emotional Van Der Scheuren said. "Then you have to make a decision about racing because at this time there is race upon race in Flanders. Tomorrow is De Panne and we let the family decide if they wanted the riders to race at De Panne if they wanted to.
"At that moment, when they family decided that they wanted the riders to race, I went to the riders who were in the hotel at that moment. They were really struggling with it, however. We had already decided that we would not race two Coupe de France races that Antoine was due to ride on Friday and Sunday. The riders decided that they did not want to race [at De Panne]."
The team will next get together on Wednesday when they will do a reconnoitre of the Tour of Flanders course, where they hope to still compete next Sunday.
The question of motorbikes in races
There has been plenty of opinion and questions from riders and fans floating around regarding the role that motorbikes play in races and the regulations surround them. Many have called for action to be taken against the motorbike rider in particular, while others have said that the number needs to be reduced and more safety regulations need to be introduced.
The Wanty-Groupe Gobert team has been very measured in their response, and has refused to lay blame on the motorbike driver.
"We really don’t want to go into this discussion at the moment. It is still very raw to us and I don’t think that this is the place to discuss it," the team’s press officer Jose Been said in response to a question about motorbikes.
"We do stress that this motorbike rider was a very experienced guy and that this was an accident, a very terrible accident but an accident. We do not blame him and it’s not our place to blame him."
As a witness to the incident, Van Der Scheuren will have to travel to France to give a statement to the authorities who are investigating the incident.
- Riders, teammates and friends pay tribute to Antoine Demoitie
- Weekend Wrap: Tragedy at Gent-Wevelgem
- Antoine Demoitie will be truly missed, says UCI president Brian Cookson
- CPA calls for improved safety standards following death of Demoitie
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