Riding is Life


‘Sometimes we forget we have brakes’

Riders reflect on the big crashes that marred an otherwise-excellent men's Tour of Flanders.

Photo: Gruber Images

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 02.04.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
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It was the sort of pile-up that stops you in your tracks. One moment you’re watching a bike race during a quiet moment, with still more than 100 km to go, and the road is straight and wide. And then a crash appears out of nowhere.

Filip Maciejuk made the wrong decision, the internet went ballistic, he was disqualified, and then he apologised. Maciejuk will likely keep his head down in the peloton over the next few months.

The mass fall caught out Wout van Aert at the back, who sported a bloody knee for the rest of the race, while Peter Sagan and Matteo Jorgenson were among the many who were also felled. Tim Wellens was left in a concerning, crumpled heap on the floor, nursing a broken collarbone.

Somehow, the majority of UAE Team Emirates remained upright, including their leader and eventual winner (who seems to exist in a magic bubble), Tadej Pogačar.

“I was with Tadej,” Mikkel Bjerg explained. Bjerg would play a key role in Pogačar’s success, sprinting for a minute up the Oude Kwaremont in an uphill lead-out for his team leader. “There was a crash and I thought then we could come back in the cars but then they made a barrage or something so we had to chase for 10 kilometres. We were 10 spots behind but we could brake … shit happens. I hope everybody is OK.”

The other man responsible for teeing up Pogačar in Wellens’s absence was Rui Oliveira, who was less forthcoming at the finish.

“No, no, I don’t comment,” he laughed nervously, choosing to focus on celebrating his squad’s victory rather than further any drama.

Tim van Dijke gets going again. Photo: Gruber Images

At the start of the race, Mathieu van der Poel had been caught out at the back as the peloton split, causing increased nervousness and a fight to be at the front. Not just the squads of the favourites but also those strong outsiders who planned to launch themselves up the road prior to a Pogačar or Van der Poel attack.

“Everyone was already on their knees because we went 51 km/h in the first hour, 49 km/h in the second hour – we basically never stopped,” said Matteo Trentin, another UAE Team Emirates rider. Trentin says he had a front-row seat to two crashes on the day and yet still deemed the race “straightforward”.

“The typical nature break just happened once,” he said. “That was it. Then there was the big crash before the Kwaremont, another big crash before the Eikenberg. When the bunch splits and comes back and splits and comes back it’s a very hard day.”

What did Trentin see of that big pile-up?

“We were in front, I was just really close to that crash,” he recalled. “I didn’t know it was caused by that rider coming in. It’s impossible to barrier the whole parcours, we need to be smarter sometimes and avoid some stupid moves because the two crashes I saw today were because of stupid moves. So maybe sometimes it’s better to pull your brake and survive another day than take down 25 riders.”

Trentin is never afraid to speak his mind on issues of safety and once again took the opportunity to call on his fellow riders to think about how they race.

“We go faster and faster,” he explained. “Every race is important, every corner is important … we are in the kind of mood where everything is important but sometimes we forget we have brakes.”

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