By Gregor Brown
Antoine Demoitié, who died on Sunday night after a crash in Belgium's classic Ghent-Wevelgem, left cycling a happy man. He had only recently married, and on Friday made an escape in his first WorldTour race, the E3 Harelbeke.
On Sunday it was a different story. The 25-year-old from Liège was hit by a motorcycle after falling from his bike 150 kilometres into the race. Medics took him to the Lille hospital, where he died with his wife and family by his bedside.
Born on October 16, 1990, Demoitié achieved much in his short time in cycling. In 2014, then riding for the Wallonie-Bruxelles continental team, he won the 1.1-ranked Tour du Finistère in France. He had contacts with the Lotto-Soudal WorldTour team thanks to Christophe Brandt, but decided he would be better off racing for professional continental team Wanty in 2016.
"Antoine's death difficult to accept," says Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert
"Philippe Gilbert is the best known rider in Wallonia," Stéphane Thirion, journalist for Belgium's Le Soir newspaper, told Cycling Weekly. "Every time that Gilbert was home before the Ardennes Classics, Antoine would train with him. He dreamed of winning the Amstel Gold Race one day."
Thirion last spoke to Demoitié at Wanty's training camp over the winter. They talked about his marriage to Astrid in his home town of Nandrin in October. Most of all, he remembered a young man who laughed often and carried the conversation at the team's dinner table.
"He had ambitions. You could see that in his first WorldTour race where he made the escape of the day. He believed that he could already win a smaller Belgian race like Dwars door Vlaanderen and that he was just as strong as Jens Debusschere [Lotto-Soudal]."
Brandt, a former professional and sports director for four years of the young Belgian's amateur career, thought back to seeing Demoitié just before Christmas. Demoitié brought over two bottles of wine to say "merci" for Brandt's help.
Brandt remembers that Demoitié told him, "'Thanks – I can go to a better team thanks to your work, Christophe.' I replied, 'You did it on your own, don't thank me.'"
The pair first met in 2010, at a time when Demoitié played football every Sunday and rode his bicycle on the other days. As they worked together over the years, Brandt began to believe that Demoitié could excel in the one-day classics from Wallonia to the Dutch-speaking side of Belgium in Flanders.
"He was attentive to all the advice I could give him," Brandt said. "He was a good guy, and it's not because he died that I say that. He wanted to help others, that's a good quality to have in a human."
Demoitié left behind his wife and his mother and father. His father passed on his love for cycling by taking him out on rides. He and his wife were Demoitié's biggest fans, travelling around Europe to see their son make progress.
His death made the headlines today, but those close to him remember his happiness. That is what Demoitié was Friday, when he rode free for 100 kilometres on the Belgian roads around Harelbeke. He left the cycling world too soon, but with his head held high.
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