Inquiry starts into Michael Goolaerts’s death after Paris-Roubaix crash
23-year-old Belgian rider died in hospital following a heart attack
Michael Goolaerts competing in the recent Tour of Flanders. The 23-year-old Belgian rider died of a heart attack during Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race. Photograph: Dirk Waem/AFP/Getty Images
As the cycling world mourned the loss of the young Belgian professional Michael Goolaerts, who died late on Sunday night after suffering a heart attack during the Paris-Roubaix race, magistrates in the northern French town of Cambrai announced that they would be opening a formal inquiry into the 23-year-old’s death.
“This is not a criminal investigation, it is an inquiry that will seek to shed light on the circumstances [of Goolaerts’s death] without in any sense assuming there have been any infractions of any law,” said a spokesperson for the Cambrai regional court, adding that such an inquiry is routine when a death is unexplained, “which is the case when a young man of 23 dies in almost a sudden way”.
An autopsy will be carried out in the coming days as part of the inquiry, although no date has been set for that. “According to our initial information, some form of medical issue, without doubt cardiac-related, caused the crash [in which the cyclist was involved], rather than a crash causing his medical state,” the spokesperson said.
Among those to express his grief on social media was Wout Van Aert, Goolaerts’s team leader at the Verandas Willems-Crelan squad, and widely regarded as the up and coming star of Belgian cycling. Van Aert wrote on his Twitter feed: “Goolie, like me a product of the year 1994. As a result we’ve been together in cycling for years. I cannot yet grasp that this has come to an end. Your eternal smile will always remain an inspiration to me.”
The race organisers, rival teams such as Quick-Step Floors and Movistar, and the former winner Fabian Cancellara all shared their condolences publicly. As Goolaerts fought for life during Sunday evening, one rival, the French rider Romain Bardet, wrote: “This sport is as sublime as it is tragic. In the sense that it can put the life of any of those who practice it in danger at any moment. All our thoughts are with Michael Goolaerts.”
“Dying while carrying out your job, your passion, at the age of 23, is a terrible thing,” said the television commentator Rodrigo Beenkens, who was covering Sunday’s race.
“Great Belgian champions have died in the past, I think of Stan Ockers and Jean-Pierre Monsere. Yesterday was the most popular race in the world after the Tour de France. So you can draw a parallel with the death of [the Olympic champion] Fabio Casartelli during the  Tour de France.”
Goolaerts collapsed and fell after roughly 100 kilometres of the 260km race, during the second section of cobbles between the villages of Viesley and Briastre, some 20km to the east of Cambrai. A doctor attempted to resuscitate him on the spot but he was taken by helicopter to a Lille hospital. His death was announced by his team at 11.30pm local time.
At 23, Goolaerts was in his second season racing with the second division Verandas Willems-Crelan team, a close-knit outfit run by the former Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens. He came from the town of Lier in east Flanders, and was a member of the Belgian team that won gold in the team sprint at the world junior championships in 2012.
He turned professional for Verandas Willems in 2014, switched to the under-23 development team run by Lotto-Soudal for 2015 and 2016, after which he returned to Verandas Willems, for whom he figured in a long escape at the Tour of Flanders in 2017, staying at the head of the race for over 200km.
Belgian cycling has been hit hard in the past few years, since the death of Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro d’Italia. That was followed by two fatal racing incidents in 2016: the 25-year-old Antoine Demoitie perished after being hit by a motorcycle during the Gent-Wevelgem race, while Daan Myngheer, who was 22, was the victim of a heart attack while racing in the Criterium International in Corsica. – Guardian service