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Cyclist Dies After Crash, Cardiac Arrest In Grueling Paris-Roubaix Race

Belgian cyclist Michael Goolaerts has died after crashing during Sunday's Paris-Roubaix race, a notoriously difficult contest that's nicknamed "The Hell of the North." Goolaerts, 23, died of cardiac arrest, his team said.

Goolaerts was about 93 miles from the finish in the one-day, 257-km (160-mile) race when he crashed into an embankment on a sharp right-hand turn. Video replays showed that he seemed to be the only cyclist in his group who crashed. Medical personnel attended to Goolaerts, and he was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Lille.

"He passed away Sunday evening at 22:40 in Lille hospital in the presence of his family members and loved ones, who we keep in our thoughts," said Goolaerts' team, Veranda's Willems-Crelan. "He died of cardiac arrest, all medical assistance was to no avail."

"It is with unimaginable sadness that we have to communicate" the news of his death, the team said.

Sunday's Paris-Roubaix race was the first time Goolaerts had ever raced in the event, which is famous for its 29 sections of cobblestones — many of which cut narrowly through woods or fields. In addition to jarring cyclists, they're prone to get slippery with mud and dirt.

Goolaerts was reportedly riding in the second of the course's cobblestone sections when he crashed.

David Lappartient, the president of Union Cycliste Internationale, said that he and the rest of cycling's governing body extend their "deepest condolences to the family, team and friends of Michael Goolaerts, who left us too early today. We share their immense sadness."

Goolaerts is at least the seventh elite cyclist to die in recent years, including two other Belgians in 2016. That's when Daan Myngheer, 22, suffered a heart attack during the Criterium International in Corsica and Antoine Demoitie, 25, died after crashing and being hit by a motorcycle in the Gent-Wevelgem race.

Last year, American Chad Young, 21, died after a crash in the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico. Months later, France's Mathieu Riebel, 20, died during a high-speed descent in the Tour de Nouvelle Caledonie, when he collided with an ambulance.

As Australia's ABC network notes, the list of cyclists who lost their lives in recent years also includes Iran's Bahman Golbarnezhad, who suffered cardiac arrest after a crash in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Belgium's Wouter Weylandt, who died in a crash at the 2011 Giro d'Italia.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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