Paris (AP) — World champion Peter Sagan outsprinted Silvan Dillier to the finish line to win the prestigious Paris-Roubaix race, but his first victory in the race known as the Queen of the Classics was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Michael Goolaerts on Sunday.
“It is with unimaginable sadness that we have to communicate the passing of our rider and friend Michael Goolaerts,” his team, Veranda’s Willems-Crelan, said in a statement.
The team said Goolaerts died “in the presence of his family members and loved ones, who we keep in our thoughts.”
Goolaerts had been evacuated by helicopter after crashing about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the finish. TV footage of the race showed Goolaerts lying unresponsive on the side of the road as the peloton passed him. He was quickly attended by a medical team and appeared to receive CPR.
Goolaerts rode in support of cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert of Belgium. His most significant result this season was 20th at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Sagan became the first defending world champion to win the one-day classic along cobbled streets since Frenchman Bernard Hinault 37 years ago.
Sagan, the three-time world champion from Slovakia, and Dillier rode together at the front for the last 25 kilometers (15.5 miles). Sagan launched the sprint in the Roubaix Velodrome and used his greater power to prevail.
“It’s amazing to win Paris-Roubaix. I’m tired after this race but not as tired as in previous years when I didn’t win it for some reasons,” Sagan said. “I have to say that I was not involved in any crash or puncture or any kind of mechanical this time, so I could save some energy for the finale. I attacked at the right moment and I kept going until the finish.”
Dutch rider Niki Terpstra, who won the Tour of Flanders last week and the 2014 edition of Paris-Roubaix, completed the podium.
The race was also marred by several crashes that ended the hopes of outsiders Sebastian Langeveld and Matteo Trentin close to the Trouee d’Arenberg sector.
Trentin’s Mitchelton-Scott team said the 28-year-old Italian rider suffered a fracture in the thoracic region and will remain hospitalized for a few days.
Sagan countered an attack from Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium with 55 kilometers left and went solo to catch Dillier and the last members of an early breakaway that formed about 200 kilometers from the finish.
Sagan tried to drop Dillier on the cobblestone section of the famed Carrefour de l’Arbre but the Swiss rider did not lose contact with his rival, guaranteeing some suspense until the final sprint.
“It’s really nice to win this race with the world champion jersey. I said before the race that my goal was to do my best. I’ve done my best,” Sagan said.
The 257-kilometer race is also known as the “Hell of the North” because of its treacherous profile including 54.5 kilometers of cobblestones spread out over 29 sectors. In 2017, nearly half of the riders did not make it to the finish in the Roubaix Velodrome.