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Young cyclist dies of cardiac arrest during practice race
Cyclist Niels De Vriendt died at the weekend during the first practice race organised in Belgium since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The 20-year-old was taking part in the race in East Flanders on Saturday as an amateur but riding alongside pros.
The pros were warming up for the following day, when the GP Vermarc – the first professional race since the lockdown – took place in Flemish Brabant. De Vriendt’s team was allowed to race in the GP Vermarc in honour of their teammate. A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the race.
De Vriendt, part of the VDM Van Durme-Michiels Trawobo club, died of cardiac arrest, the latest in a string of deaths of young cyclists, both in Belgium and globally, of heart failure during a race. De Vriendt fell from his bicycle in Wortegem-Petegem during the race. Paramedics on the scene could not revive him. Following De Vriendt’s death at the scene, the race was stopped.
“What should have been a celebration has ended in a drama,” said Wortegem-Petegem mayor Luc Vander Meeren. “There are already flowers placed at the site where Niels died. And I am going to propose to the city council that we place a memorial plaque here or create a place where his family and friends can come to remember him.”
Cyclists are required to undergo cardiac check-ups, and De Vriendt had reportedly had one just two weeks ago. “With young athletes, we know that underlying heart problems can cause this to happen,” Tom Teulingkx, the chair of the Flanders’ federation of sports doctors, told Sporza. “They can in fact have inherited genetic problems.”
But riders can also acquire heart conditions during the course of their careers, said Teulingkx. “This could be related to scar tissue on the heart muscle caused by recurrent infections. Training or competing when you’re sick can play a role in this, but we don’t know if the intensity of the activity influences it. These are all blind spots that need more research.”
Photo: Niels De Vriendt’s teammates during the minute of silence held before Sunday’s race