Lotto-Soudal rider punched in face during training ride

The Belgian blamed the fears surrounding coronavirus for his attacker's actions

A Lotto-Soudal rider has been punched in the face several times during a training ride.

22-year-old Belgian Harm Vanhoucke was out training in the Flandrian villaeg of Aalbeke when a man in a black van attacked him. Vanhoucke says he was punched several times in the face after asking the man to keep his distance.

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The WorldTour rider is now appealing for people who may know his attacker’s identity to come forward.

Writing on his Facebook page, Vanhoucke said: “A message I would rather not post. Around midday, I was riding in Aalbeke [and was forced off the road] by a black van. He, a man in his forties/fifties and heavily built, got aggressive and I asked him to keep his distance. After saying this he punched me in the face. This is anything but normal in these times of coronavirus. If anyone knows this person please send me a message.”

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Pro cyclists in Europe have faced uncertainty over whether they will be able to continue training while racing is postponed, with countries such as France, Spain and Italy imposing bans on cycling. Professionals have been able to continue riding outside but must carry paperwork with them.

Gorka Izagirre spoke out against the cycling ban and €3000 fines that were being handed out to riders caught outside during the lockdown in Spain, asking authorities to clarify whether pros were allowed to train outside, as doing so constituted part of their job.

Vanhoucke’s compatriot Oliver Naesen has had a better time training back in Belgium, completing a 365km-long ride last week.

Alongside 22-year-old companion Maxim Pirard, the pair set off at 5.30am for their 12-hour ride, averaging 30.4km/h on the mostly flat terrain, while Naesen averaged 182 watts and hit a maximum power of 861.