Cycling classic paris – roubaix: the puppet race

Peter Sagan triumphs at the "Hell of the North" in an untypical way. But his success is overshadowed by the death of professional Michael Goolaerts.

Peter Segan (front) on the cobblestone road "Carrefour de l’Abre" Photo: dpa

Peter Sagan beamed in the Roubaix velodrome. For he had fulfilled a childhood dream. "As a boy, I loved to watch Paris-Roubaix. I wanted to win this race so much. Now, when I turned onto the velodrome and knew I was actually racing to win here for the first time, it was an indescribable feeling," he said in the heart of the famous cycling stadium.

Sagan had taken the victory in the venerable style of the greats in his field. He hadn’t lurked, hadn’t waited until the end to then play up his sprinting strengths. No, like in the vintage times of the sport, he had set off on his own 55 km before the finish. He had thus knocked out the Quick Step squad that had dominated the spring classics so far. "After all, we can’t always be in front," said, slightly meowingly, the big favorite and winner of 2014, Niki Terpstra, later at the press conference.

Terpstra now learned what had often happened to Sagan this spring: disunity in the chase group. "The cooperation wasn’t so bad," Terpstra claimed, but up front, Sagan was able to extend his lead more and more, largely on his own. "They did get closer to me at times, and I did look around. But then they attacked each other again, lost a lot of power and I gained time on them again," Sagan said later. And, grinning mischievously, he summed up the situation this way: "Better to ride alone at a steady pace at the front than be stuck at the back with five, six, seven riders who disagree."

Death clouds success

Sagan had previously lamented that very disunity among rivals. "If no one works with me, Quick Step will continue to take victory after victory," he groused after the Tour of Flanders the previous week, when that’s exactly what happened. The Slovak’s indictment of the competition was still branded as whining then. As a "cat on the tree", which itself always only lurked and only late took the initiative, Sagan had been plagued by old champion Tom Boonen. "Sagan promptly turned into a lion.

All this could be further spelled out in heroic prose. But Sagan wasn’t in the mood for praise when he learned of 23-year-old colleague Michael Goolaerts’ critical health. On a slightly downhill right-hand bend on only the second of 29 pave sections, Goolaerts had missed the change of direction and gone straight onto the embankment. His colleagues passed him in single file, the classic formation on cobblestones, and might have wondered. Goolaerts remained lying down. "He suffered a cardiac arrest and briefly lost consciousness," Michiel Elijzen, sporting director of Goolaerts’ team Veranda Willems Crelan, later explained. At that point, the athlete, who had been resuscitated at the Lille hospital, was still fighting death. By 10:40 p.m. Sunday night, he had lost that battle.

It should be noted that Goolaerts was not the victim of a "horror fall", as some media immediately wrote. The strains of the "Hell of the North", as Paris-Roubaix is called, were also not the cause. The sun was shining, the race was still at the very beginning and no other rider was involved in the crash.

In the same team, 22-year-old Daan Myngheer’s heart already stopped in 2016

Why Goolaert’s heart stopped must now be thoroughly investigated. Because in 2016, another rider who had ridden for a year in the same team also died of cardiac arrest. It was the then 22-year-old Daan Myngheer.

One can also ask why, in the case of such a serious incident – Goolaerts’ critical situation was immediately clear to those arriving at the scene of the crash – the race is not neutralized in order to make a cool-blooded consideration of how to proceed. Many professionals who arrived at the Roubaix velodrome only learned there of the seriousness of the incident. They are thus nothing more than puppets to be pedaled and deliberately deprived of information about the critical condition of a colleague.

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