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Tijl De Decker, the passing of a Roubaix champion

While about to be discussing about Vuelta’s blackout and darkness, the lights went off for Tijl De Decker. The young Belgian was training but then it all happened. Out of the blue the Wednesday was gone, and so was his life, the twenty two years old Roubaix U23 champ, a person, a mere cyclist on the road, once more. And once more, Lotto.

The team’s pain seems inherited from Bjorg Lambrecht, passed away the same month (August) four years ago. Grief was not over yet. It looks the black dawns will last forever. Mirrors with nightmares on reflection. They never stayed that tight on the wall. Fate betrayed youth, and the thoughts and feelings belonging to those who suffered in the summer of 2019 the nightmare of coming home with one less soldier.

Almost the same ones that achieved going on. Ride on. We had enough, the blue has taken over. Nobody’ll be the same with a bird less to fly. The silent melodies warn the triumph of death, of missery. The tragedy overwhelming their hearts and one empathetic shiver down the spine: it could have been me. Because Tijl is gone to lecture us the risky this sport is. It takes a big amount of guts to join a bunch, to face the road on your own, with just your skin to be peeled off in case any aggressive invasion of your personal space takes place.

Tijl was born in Antwerp, and in its nearbies died, fighting for two days at a hospital against his severe injuries, incompatible with his life, in stand by to resume. He had signed to start in the elite team next season (2024), to join the collection of stars that struggle every single day to take Lotto Dstny back to World Tour in 2026. But destiny was exactly what failed here, erasing name and surname from all transfers lists for next season.

In a summer losing two historical riders such as Federico Martín Bahamontes and Guillermo Timoner to legend. Both Spanish, both older than ninety. When the crac is more than that, then cool. It is sad but natural, there’s room for understanding. Not with somebody who never started living a dream turned nightmare all of a sudden. It is shocking to wonder how relatives may find strength and grief. Understanding will never come. And life does have to go on. Show must do, despite it sounds prettier in Mercury’s notes than in actual life facts.

Vuelta España 2023 – Andreas Kron (DEN – Lotto Dstny) – photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Black clouds will give way to clear skies again. Tide goes up and down, like a rollercoaster speeding a bit more every single minute, a wheel you could never stop from spinning. Cycling forgets fast, heals the wounds anyhow and leaves behind as far as there’re races coming. Barely a heartbeat away from becoming Belgian champion a couple of days before the accident, yellow jersey for two days at Tour d’Alsace, stage winner in Tour of Taiwan, and the hall to the stardom he was about to cross will be ever decorated by some of those interesting results he was getting in this yet magic yet tragic 2023. The irony, the unfairness, happening in the same pavement.

Andreas Kron lifted the fog a bit, installed in the faces around the bus. Lotto Dstny smiled for a while, the sights went a little higher than the shoes. Victories make hard times much easier. Tijl will push forward, will pedal with them, will prove them that cycling is worth it. Bad times though. Even if the sky’s pouring or spilling all the sadness on the roads. Danger and success inhabit here. They share a coin that resembles the roulette: red or black, go on or hurt. Cycling, in his deep shores, hurts. And it’s one of its beauties.

Written by Jorge Matesanz

Pics: Lotto Dstny /  Brecht Steenhouwer

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