If circumstances had allowed I would have done this sooner, before people had already expressed their condolences in the death of 23-year-old Belgian cyclist Michael Goolaerts of Verandas Willems-Crelan. Goolaerts suffered a cardiac arrest during the early stages of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and was pronounced dead late Sunday evening at a hospital in Lille, France as a result. French authorities are opening the customary inquiry that one would expect in the sudden death of a young person, but the signs all point to a previously unknown medical condition.
Goolaerts was a Belgian cobbled classics warrior, a teammate of Wout Van Aert, whose own meteoric ascent this spring has now “vanished,” in Van Aert’s words, due to the shocking and distressing news of his friend’s death. While he was on the bike, though, Goolaerts seemed to carve out a role in that time-honored tradition of Flemish hardman domestique. A year ago, he spent 200km in the breakaway of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, a job as well as an honor for a young rider of his stature and background. Goolaerts showed up at all of the classics for Verandas Willems, and briefly for the Lotto-Soudal Development team, tackling his role in Flanders and Roubaix the last two years, as well as Gent-Wevelgem, Driedaagse, Dwars, etc. He also rode Ster and BinckBank for his squad, getting into the odd breakaway or even contesting an occasional sprint for minor placings. By his record, he was a classics guy, ready to hop in a break or do the hard work in these wonderful races.
I am taking the liberty of reprinting his background from Wikipedia below. I think the best we foreign cycling fans who weren’t very familiar with him can do now is get to know who he was as a rider.
Goolaerts was born in Lier and grew up in Hallaar, Heist-op-den-Berg, where he became a member of the Balen Bicycle Club. He won the provincial individual time trial championship title of Antwerp in the newcomers category in 2010. He also won the individual time trial championship title in the juniors category in 2011. In 2012, he won the Belgian championships team pursuit title with the juniors.
Goolaerts signed his first professional contract with Lotto–Soudal as a stagiaire, starting on 1 August 2016, before signing with UCI Professional Continental team Vérandas Willems–Crelan for the 2017 season. He made his debut in the Étoile de Bessèges, and had a top-10 position in the GP Briek Schotte. At the start of the 2018 season he placed ninth in Dwars door West–Vlaanderen and was in an early breakaway in the Tour of Flanders.
Not mentioned is that he scored a victory in the first stage of the Tour du Loir et Cher in 2016, outsprinting future Sky rider Christopher Lawless for the win. The race is part of the UCI Europe Tour, making this a pro victory for Goolaerts I believe. This season his best result was ninth place in the Dwars door West Vlaanderen, 55 seconds behind winner Rémi Cavagna of Quick Step.
Rest in Peace, Michael.