The world of Belgian cycling was in mourning this morning after the death on Saturday of 20-year-old Niels De Vriendt shortly after the start of a practice race.
De Vriendt was taking part in the Wortegem to Petegem practice run when he collapsed. Despite three attempts at resuscitation, emergency staff present were unable to revive him.
Luc Vander Meeren, mayor of Wortegem, said there would be no judicial investigation of the incident.
“There was no collision with another rider,” he told VTM News. It was an unfortunate fall, but one with a fatal outcome.”
There will however be an investigation by the medical examiner.
The incident came at the start of the race, which marked the start of the Belgian cycling season. De Vriendt fell and landed in a ditch by the side of the road. It remains unclear whether the fall came as a result of the heart attack or vice-versa.
“I think an examination his heart rate monitor will reveal what happened,” said Chris Van Durme, president of VDM-Trawobo, the cyclist’s club.
“Niels always wore his heart rate monitor, including today,” Van Durme said. “According to his father, he was fully screened two weeks ago. That investigation did not reveal anything. The fact that Niels suffered a cardiac arrest five or ten minutes after the start of a race is unbelievable for his parents. They are in shock.”
Team captain Paul Van Hyfte described what happened directly after the fall.
“I wasn’t the first on the scene, but I was nearby,” he told VTM. “Before a medical emergency team arrived, Niels was resuscitated and regained consciousness, then lost it again. He recovered on a second attempt at CPR, but the rescuers lost him again. The third attempt to get his heart going again was unsuccessful.”
The race was not resumed.
Six of De Vriendt’s team-mates were due this morning to line up at the start of the season’s first professional race in Rotselaar – as a mark of respect for their friend, the team said. The race started with a minute’s silence.