For the 63rd edition of the 4 Days of Dunkerque, we left from Dunkerque en route to a town called Iwuy. Travelling through the north of France, this years edition of the race includes 4 pro tour teams: Lotto, Ag2r, FDJ, and Bahrain Merida. There are a bunch of Pro continental teams such as Direct Energie, Androni, Aqua Blue, Wanty, Top Sport Vlannderen and many others. There are a total of 19 teams competing this year. The race is extended to 6 stages from the usual 4 or 5 as in past years. Since the Tour of Picardie is not happening, they added a stage in 4 jours to cover some of Picardie. I had thought that since the ASO (organization of the Tour de France) had owned Picardie, that they would attempt to buy or takeover the 4 Jours of Dunkerque, but apparently, that did not happen. The race is featured on Eurosport, the ESPN of France.
Today’s stage was a tribute to the Paris Roubaix, where the race was taken through many of the same sections of pave as was recently featured in the Paris Roubaix race where Greg VanAvermat of BMC recently won. The weather was sunny with some cross winds. For the first 50 kilometers (Km), the race moved pretty slow. Mostly a lot of posturing and nature breaks. Pro racing is funny sometimes, they will let a break go and the peloton rides at 21 mph and you think to yourself that you could be in the race no problem. The peloton let the 3 man break go out to nearly 10 minutes at one point and then FDJ came to the front to control the race and brought back the break to about 6 minutes. Everything was pretty calm throughout the race until we hit the first sector of pave.
The first sector of pave predictably split the race into pieces. The break was brought back and basically the strong teams let the race come back together. Then the race got broken up even more as the riders attacked the rest of the pave.
Then disaster struck. The peloton crashed at a about 60 km/h with only 22 km to go in the 197 km stage. Around 50 riders went down, with only a small front group avoiding the crash. The crash blocked the entire road. Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal) fractured his pelvis, Stin Devolder fractured his collarbone, and three riders from Veranda’s Willems-Crelan needed to go to hospital.
The riders involved in the crash were in a state of panic because one rider was knocked unconscious. The rider was Stijn Vandenbergh from Ag2r La Mondiale. It was my worst fear, a rider with an obstructed airway, barely breathing, and posturing. This is an immediate sign of a brain injury. Thankfully I was able to open his airway, as I held traction on his neck and the rest of the medical team started an IV, put a neck collar and administered oxygen. He was in the ambulance within 8 minutes and transported to a hospital with neurosurgery capabilities. En route to the hospital, Stijn apparently improved en route to the hospital and was undergoing multiple evaluations.The goal is to get a patient like this to a hospital as soon as possible. I quickly left Stijn to the other doctor in the race, and we continued on to catch up to the peloton which was long gone by this time. Once you lose the peloton, it is not so easy to get back to the peloton. Since we did not have a police escort, we had to move carefully through the small villages, as there are a lot of people on the side of the roads, specifically small children. We finally made it back to the peloton and signaled to the race director that we had returned.
The rest of the race finished uneventfully, and Jens Debusschere of Lotto had won the sprint. His victory was overshadowed by the crash that had occurred earlier. Other riders who missed out on the sprint was previous winner of the 4 days of Dunkerque, FDJ’s Marc Demare and Heinrich Haussler.
Photos of the race can be found on my Facebook or Instagram at Docedwards5