Today’s Azencross was a tough day. The non-important part was that nothing I planned worked out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes you just have to walk away and accept, that it wasn’t your day and that is ok.
The scary bit was Mathieu van der Poel’s crash. With two laps to go, I thought if I went stayed a bit near the pump track, I could make it back for the finish. I saw the riders riding past me, first Toon Aerts, then Tom Meeusen and van der Poel, then the rest of the front of the race in tow. From where I was sitting, I was able to catch them as they were coming back from that switchback, beyond the edge of the ‘bowl’. Aerts gone, Van Aert gone, most of the riders rode away quickly, but I didn’t see van der Poel riding past.
It is not unusual that I simply don’t notice a rider going past me – often, I’m so focused on shooting that I can’t keep track of what is actually happening right in front of me. Suddenly, the jumbotron guy next to me says something in Flemish. I don’t really understand what he was saying, except the name ‘Mathieu van der Poel’. That’s when it dawned on me that I didn’t see him riding past – he’s still there for some reason. I ran over the edge of the bowl and there he lay. It was a harrowing sight, he wasn’t moving at all. As I got closer, I could see that he was breathing, but his eyes were closed. I tentatively shot a few frames, kept my distance, I wasn’t really sure what to do. You can see me working in this video:
— Maarten Holemans (@MaartenHolemans) December 29, 2016
After a few minutes, he finally opened his eyes and started responding to the doctors. I left at that time, still not knowing how badly the crash affected him. About two hours later, the news finally arrived that all is well with him and he left the hospital.
It’s easy to forget that cyclocross can be a dangerous sport. I had to think long and hard to remember a serious crash at a cyclocross race and had to concede that it is very, very rare, and thankfully, nothing serious has happened today either and van der Poel emerged more or less unscathed. I hope he recovers quickly and returns to racing swiftly.
This was the last race of 2016 for me. There will be a ‘Best of 2016’ post tomorrow with my favourite photos and moments from the last twelve months, and in about a week or so, the Kickstarter campaign to fund the 2016/2017 book will be starting as well. More on that soon. Happy New Year!