By Hedwig Kröner and Susan Westemeyer
Gent-Wevelgem was won by a German rider for only the second time ever, and while T-Mobile's Marcus Burghardt celebrated, other teams and riders had no reason to smile.
The crashes on the second descent of Kemmelberg took out many riders: On the cobbled descent, a water bottle was jarred loose, and a Gerolsteiner rider swerved to avoid it, causing a crash that left Unibet's Jimmy Casper lying on the cobbles with blood pouring down his face. As riders braked to avoid Casper, several more nasty crashes occurred, taking out Wim De Vocht (Predictor), Tyler Farrar (Cofidis), Luke Roberts (CSC), Wilfried Cretskens (Quickstep), Andy Cappelle (Landbouwkrediet) and Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner).
French rider Casper was reportedly diagnosed with a severe concussion and a fracture of the bones that make up the eye orbit. The Unibet rider was transferred to the intensive care unit of the hospital in Ypres.
Cofidis' Tyler Farrar suffered severe damage to his kneecap, and will be out of racing for at least one month. Australian Luke Roberts, meanwhile, has been said to be "OK" by his team CSC and ready for this Sunday's final big battle on the cobble stones: Paris-Roubaix.
Wim de Vocht of Predictor-Lotto broke his thumb and suffered scrape wounds all over his body. He will not be able to start at Paris-Roubaix, where Björn Leukemans will replace him.
Wilfried Cretskens (Quickstep) is also out of racing for two weeks, as he wounded his right arm severely in the fall. He and team-mate Kevin Hulsmans, who abandoned Gent-Wevelgem with respiratory problems due to a bronchitis, will not be participating in the 'Hell of the North'.
Within team Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner, Andy Cappelle suffered a crack in the left shoulder and a fracture of the left elbow. His team-mate James Vanlandschoot broke his thumb, elbow and wrist - both riders will be out of competition for two months.
Three Milram riders also had to abandon Gent-Wevelgem. Alessandro Petacchi was lucky enough to only have his bike damaged enough to cause him to drop out. Team-mate Fabio Sacchi was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg, but x-rays showed that he was only severely bruised.
Petacchi's important lead-out man Marco Velo wasn't so lucky. He broke not only his right collarbone and two ribs, but probably tore all the ligaments in his right knee as well. He'll be in the hospital for at least another 24 hours.
"A bad day for us," concluded Milram spokeswoman Sandra Schmitz succinctly.
"That was all pretty stupid today," said Marcel Sieberg, who was an eyewitness to his teammates' crashes and came to the finish line in a following group. "In the finale, I wanted to go with them on the final sprint but I didn't have the legs for it. Besides that our group was pretty hectic in the sprint and the barriers suddenly got closer and closer. I decided not to bother, I didn't want to crash again."
Gerolsteiner came off a little better. Heinrich Haussler was another Kemmelberg victim and was taken to the hospital with a suspected broken collarbone. It turned out that the young German-Australian had "only" severe bruising on his shoulder, knee and elbow.
Meanwhile, over in Pais Vasco, Haussler's teammate Ronny Scholz didn't even make it to the start Wednesday. He spent the night before in the bathroom with an intestinal bug, and even decided not to fly home on Wednesday, preferring to stay close to the bathroom.
T-Mobile came out of Gent-Wevelgem with no serious injuries, although Servais Knaven did hit the pavement at one point. They lost two riders in Spain, today, though. Adam Hansen dropped out after injuring his foot in a crash during the first stage, and Giuseppe Guerini dropped out, having come from the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in a weakened condition.
Finally, Canadian track cyclist Travis Smith, who crashed in a dramatic run-in with Chinese rider Qi Tang at the UCI World Championships in Mallorca, Spain earier this month will be undergoing surgery to repair two fractures found deep inside his hip joint. Initially, the doctors though he suffered a strain but upon further examination the fractures were discovered and surgery recommended.
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