A Belgian cycling race organiser was handed a three-month suspended for a series of mistakes in planning an amateur cycling race in 2019, including a fatal one which resulted in the riders being sent the wrong way and Stef Loos being hit by the driver of a van.
The case was heard earlier this week in Tournai police court in the Wallonia region of Belgium, where race organiser Marc Duquesnoy was prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter and involuntary injuries.
The 19-year-old Belgian cyclist Stef Loos of the Acrog-Pauwels Sauzen-Balen team, described by many as an "up-and-coming" racer at the time, was one of the 30 riders who were sent the wrong by a marshal while taking part in the Grand Prix Alfred Gadenne on March 17, 2019.
The riders were unaware that they had left the circuit and ended up at racing speeds on the Chaussée de Frasnes. However, before they realised it, a van driver crashed into the side of three cyclists, including Loos, at unsecured crossroads.
Duquesnoy was sentenced to three months, with the full term suspended. La Dernière Heure reports that the prosecutor in the case had requested a 12-month sentence, with six months suspended, which would have resulted in prison time.
The court heard that there were insufficient number of marshal motorcyclists on the day, and that the signage along the route was also imprecise and sparse.
The defence noted the police had granted permission for the race to go ahead despite the shortage of marshals, adding Duquesnoy was not responsible for the deployment of marshals.
An investigation also revealed that at one of the crossroads, there was an absence of signal, and at another, riders actually had to take a different route than the one where the signs were pointed.
The prosecutor had requested a 12-month prison sentence, six of which were suspended.
However, Duquesnoy's defence noted that the police had granted permission for the race to go ahead despite the shortage of marshals, adding Duquesnoy was not responsible for the deployment of marshals.
He further claimed while he had made a mistake in drawing up the race route, he was not responsible for directing riders on the day.
Duquesnoy said: "I have organised more than 500 races. What happened remains on my heart. But I cannot be responsible and guilty for everything. Until I die, I will think about this tragedy."
The cycling community in Belgium suffered a devastating loss with the passing of Stef Loos. The thoughts of everyone at Belgian Cycling are with his family, friends and team-mates at this sad time. pic.twitter.com/1E6GO0SX20
— Belgian Cycling (@BELCycling) March 18, 2019
In the very first hour of the race, with around 46 kilometres completed, around 30 riders went straight through a junction instead of turning right, at a location where the arrows directing the riders were different to the route book.
Stef Loos' team manager Jef Robert, after the race, said: "We're devastated by what has happened. Stef had ridden with us for a few years and was very well liked. Moreover, it’s not the first serious incident involving one of our riders. We are all in mourning."
In March, a racer was airlifted to hospital with a neck injury sustained in a crash with a car stopped on the course of the Dulwich Paragon Wally Gimber Trophy, prompting teams and riders alike to call for safety improvements at races.
The race – one of the longest-running road races in the United Kingdom, having been held every year since 1960 except for 2020 – was called off after the incident on the second lap which saw “one rider hit the back of a stationary car” and sustain “serious injuries”.
The race organisers said the event had been stopped following a “traffic incident”, with the Ride Revolution team confirming to road.cc that their rider had crashed through the vehicle’s rear windscreen, suffering a serious cut to the neck which saw him rushed by air ambulance to King’s College Hospital for emergency treatment.
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.