Roubaix (France) (AFP) – Belgian Michael Goolaerts was left fighting for his life after suffering “heart failure” as world champion Peter Sagan won the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic on Sunday.
Goolaerts was in a life-threatening condition, according to organisers, after being airlifted to hospital having been found unconscious and not breathing by race doctors.
They were the first to try to resuscitate Goolaerts on the scene before the fire brigade and an emergency mobile medical team took over.
The rider was alone when discovered lying on his back, with his arms spread behind him and knees bent at a 90-degree angle about 100km into the race.
“We would ask for patience on this matter,” a spokesman for Goolaerts’s team, Veranda’s Willems, told AFP.
The hospital in the northern city of Lille told AFP that Goolaerts “was in a grave condition” when he arrived there by helicopter.
Meanwhile, Sagan said the other riders had heard nothing of the incident during the race.
He added: “We are going to go over to the hospital at Lille to see him. I’m very sorry for him.”
The 257km race is known as the ‘Hell of the North’, in part because of the numerous crashes its treacherous cobbles provoke.
After attacking his main rivals 55km from home, Sagan outsprinted Swiss champion Silvan Dillier, the last survivor from an earlier break, in the iconic outdoor velodrome in Roubaix after 5hrs 54mins 06sec in the saddle.
Last week’s Tour of Flanders winner, Niki Terpstra, was third at 57sec and 2017 champion Greg Van Avermaet fourth at 1:34.
It was a second prestigious one-day classic success for Sagan, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2016 and has three consecutive world titles.
“I feel amazing, I’m so tired, but I was involved in no crashes, had no flat tyres and I just kept going,” said the 28-year-old Slovak, who at one point was caught on camera using an Allen key to make some onboard repairs as he cycled along at more than 40km/h.
“I didn’t feel that strong actually, I just felt the others wouldn’t work together and that it was the right moment,” he said of his break.
“It’s very good for my career, when I was younger I dreamed of winning this race.”
Dillier said his very participation at the race had been in doubt and admitted that without Sagan alongside him, he would never have secured such an impressive result.
“I broke a finger recently and didn’t think I’d make Paris-Roubaix because of that,” he said.
“Sagan is an angel and devil in the same person — an angel because he took me with him and a devil because I had to go man-to-man with him.
“Congratulations to him.”
Known for his rapid finishing, Sagan launched his victory bid with a blistering attack from 55km out on one of the 29 cobbled sections totalling more than 54km in length.
– ‘Too good’ –
He soon stretched out a lead of more than 30 seconds over his main rivals for victory as he bounced over the cobbles.
Sagan latched onto an earlier break and soon made up a three-man group alongside Belgian Jelle Wallays and Dillier.
With 20km to go Wallays had dropped off as Sagan upped the pace and the breakaway duo pushed their lead out to 1:30.
Van Avermaet and Tersptra were slow to react and when they did they dragged the gap back down to under a minute with 13km to go.
But the chase stalled there as Sagan and Dillier dug in to ensure they had enough leeway to contest a two-up sprint finish.
Terpstra, whose Quick-Step team had been expected to dominate the race, said nothing could have been done to stop the Slovak.
“Peter Sagan was just too good today. It wasn’t that Quick-Step had a bad day, he made the right move at the right time,” said Terpstra.