In a press conference heavy with emotion yet steely in its defiance, Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert today shared its darkest day with the media.
At their hotel on Belgium's blustery coast, the team were clearly struggling to come to terms with the tragic death of Antoine Demoitié. Having pulled out of their forthcoming races, the managers and riders explained that they would return to competition only when they felt ready — and when they could give 100 per cent for their fallen team member.
Demoitié, 25, died following a crash at the one-day classic Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday. He had competed in his first ever WorldTour event at E3 Harelbeke just two days earlier.
The Belgian professional continental team were due to race in the Three Days of De Panne starting on Monday, but have decided against it. They have also pulled out of the forthcoming French races on their schedule.
"We decided not to race. We don't have the spirit to fight in the group for position," cyclist Roy Jans stood up to say. "We need a little bit more time, maybe even to think about what happened. If we race again, we want to do so 100 per cent and get that victory for Antoine."
The next race on the schedule will be the team's biggest of the year, the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. On Wednesday, they will preview some climbs and sit for breakfast in Ghent.
The mood was understandably sombre. The only thing comparable in recent times is Wouter Weylandt's death at the Giro d'Italia on May 9, 2011. On that day David Millar took the pink jersey, but no one could celebrate when news trickled through that Weylandt crashed at high-speed, with fatal consequences.
Watch: Wanty-Groupe Gobert sports director on Antoine Demoitié
Wanty's sports director, Hilaire Van Der Schueren, cannot forget what he saw on northern France's road.
"Antoine had just called for a few bottles. Those were his last words," Van Der Schueren said with his eyes turning red. "I went to the front and the accident happened. I saw the accident – it wasn't that bad – and that's when the moto hit him. A mechanic immediately jumped out of the car to help him, but he came back and told me that I had to look myself.
"You see him lying on the ground, you know it's terrible, but you always keep hope. The ambulance was there, he went in the helicopter, and you think, he's in good hands. But when we got a call for the personal details of his wife and family, then you know it's terrible."
Critics questioned whether there were too many motorbikes in Sunday's race, but the team's press officer said this wasn't the time to debate such things.
"We don't want to go into that discussion at the moment," she said. "It's not the place to discuss it. We do stress that he was an experienced driver. It was an accident, a terrible one, but an accident."
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