'It was an ugly fall' - The day De Ronde dreams were shattered

A brutal crash midway through Dwars door Vlaanderen saw the likes of Wout van Aert and Jasper Stuyven abandon the race, ending their hopes of Tour of Flanders success

There are days when bike racing serves up a sudden, jolting reminder of its dangerous fragility. The 2024 edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen was one of those days.

Less than one week ago, Lidl-Trek were enjoying a Classics season for the ages. Jasper Stuyven was in the form of his life, finishing in a career-best second place at the E3 Saxo Classic. A few days later, Mads Pedersen outsprinted the world champion on his way to a historic Gent-Wevelgem win. There was talk of the American team being reborn, riding the Classics with a similar style to Quick-Step in their heyday, announcing themselves as favourites for victory in the biggest one-day races in the world. But in just a few seconds, a messy touch of wheels and a gust of wind, Lidl-Trek went from the team controlling and animating Dwars door Vlaanderen, to the team with the most bodies scattered across the tarmac in Flanders.

Crashes like the one that took out Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven and Alex Kirsch with just under 70 kilometres to go at Dwars door Vlaanderen don’t happen very often. Normally in the chaotic Classics, the front of the race is the safest place of them all – the mess and accidents happen further back. The helicopter shot doesn’t clearly show exactly what caused the domino effect to ripple through the group of favourites, but as the camera flashed back to shots of Stuyven cradling his collarbone and Pedersen analysing raw and bloody road rash, the hearts of cycling fans dropped everywhere.

It wasn’t just Lidl-Trek that fell victim to the unforgiving Belgian roads today. Alongside the riders in their ripped red, blue and yellow kit was the sad sight of Wout van Aert, his Visma-Lease a Bike jersey split open across his entire back revealing abrasions that were causing him to double over in pain. Biniam Girmay of Intermarché -Wanty was another of the fallen, another rider whose dreams of success in the Classics were broken.

Neither Lidl-Trek, Intermarché-Wanty or Visma-Lease a Bike have yet officially confirmed the extent of the injuries of riders like Stuyven, Girmay and Van Aert, but TV pictures of the trio being ferried away in an ambulance did not paint a hopeful picture surrounding their participation in the the Tour of Flanders in just three days' time (and there are reports of a broken collarbone for Wout van Aert.) Former Belgian champion Van Aert had planned the entire opening half of his season around targeting the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and his win in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne suggested he could be on his way to his first Monument win in 2024. After some weeks spent training at altitude, it was all shaping up for the Belgian rider to finally have some luck in the races he loves the most, until, on that wide, windy road in Flanders today, it wasn’t. Van Aert’s heartbreak was visible as he came to terms with the reality of his situation – it’s going to take some time for the Visma-Lease a Bike rider to get over this.

“I was on Wout’s wheel at the time it happened. Just before the Kanarieberg it was obviously a decisive moment in the race and we had two lead-out trains, Trek and us. Wout and Alex Kirsch came together and it was an ugly fall. I knew Wout was going to be out of the race at that point, we were going so fast," eventual race winner, Matteo Jorgenson, commented afterwards.

The potential absence of riders like Girmay, Van Aert, Stuyven and Pedersen at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the race. So far, this season’s Classics have been close-run and exciting, largely thanks to the battles between Lidl-Trek, Visma-Lease a Bike and Alpecin-Deceuninck. What was once shaping up to be a nail-biting edition of De Ronde now is looking like it could be a much easier win for Mathieu van der Poel if many of the main favourites are unable to start following today’s crash.

While Jorgenson eventually took an impressive solo win at Dwars door Vlaanderen to salvage something for Visma-Lease a bike, the victory celebrations will undoubtedly be tarnished by the misfortune of his teammate. It was a day which showed that no one is immune to the risks of professional cycling – a race which was tainted by a catastrophic crash that impacted many of the favourites for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

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