By NPR's count, Sunday brought the fifth death of an elite cyclist, the oldest of whom was just 25, since 2016. Belgian Michael Goolaerts crashed just before the midway point of the Paris-Roubaix race and died Sunday night of cardiac arrest, said his team, Veranda's Willems-Crelan. He was helicoptered to a Lille hospital, but "all medical assistance was to no avail." Goolaerts was 23. NPR reports the 160-mile, one-day race has been dubbed "The Hell of the North" for its difficulty. Goolaerts hadn't raced it before and crashed in the second of the course's 29 cobblestone sections, which make up about 20% of the course, while making a right-hand turn. Two Belgians died in other races in 2016; American Chad Young died last year in a New Mexico race, and a French racer died months later.
The AP explains the Paris-Roubaix race's difficulty by noting that nearly half the riders didn't even finish in 2017. At the Guardian, Richard Williams reports the race has been held since 1896, seven years longer than the Tour de France, and he explains why cycling fans so fiercely "revere" it. "These are all hard men," he writes of the riders, "mostly Belgian and Dutch, brought up to race in harsh conditions. There is little room in this race for the slender Spaniards or tiny Colombians who fly up the great climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees. Paris-Roubaix's 54km of huge cobbles, designed for the horse-drawn carts of 19th-century farmers, would shake them to pieces." World champion Peter Sagan was this year's winner. (Read more cycling stories.)