In the Belgian cycling world, people reacted with dismay to the sudden death of Niels De Vriendt. The only twenty-year-old Belgian rider died on Saturday after a serious crash in a cycling race in his own country.

"What should have been a beautiful day turned into a nightmare after fifteen minutes," writes Tim Merlier, whose mother organized the competition in Wortegem-Petegem, on Instagram.

"It was a wise and rightful decision by the jury to stop the competition," continues the Belgian champion. "I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends. RIP, Niels."

De Vriendt, who was still waiting for his debut in a professional race, hit hard on the asphalt in the opening round of the first Belgian race since the corona crisis, as he was presumably hit by a heart attack.

He remained motionless on the floor, after which the emergency services rushed to resuscitate him in vain. The organization immediately halted the course and decided not to continue the game after it was announced that De Vriendt had died.

Cycling Vlaanderen, @BELCycling, the municipal council of Wortegem-Petegem and the organizing club wish all strength to the family, friends and team (VDM Trawobo Cycling Team) of Niels de Vriendt, as well as to the organizers of the race in Wortegem-Petegem 🙏❤

AvatarAvatar Author CyclingVLMoment of places14: 50 - July 4, 2020

'The race is now a side issue'

Sep Vanmarcke was also at the start in Wortegem-Petegem and he saw the crash happen. "In the first lap some riders crashed in one of the corners," the Belgian tells Sporza . "I don't know if the cardiac arrest was caused by the fall or vice versa."

"The race is now a side issue," said Vanmarcke. "This immediately puts the race into perspective. Everyone now knows their place on earth again. We are no longer a rider, but just fellow human beings."

On Sunday, the first professional competition since the corona pandemic will be completed in Belgium with the Vermarc Grand Prix in Rotselaar. Before that race, a minute's silence is held in memory of De Vriendt.

See also: The new 2020 cycling calendar for men and women