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World cyclo-cross champion asks, "Please keep Michael's memory alive" in open letter published on his website...

Wout van Aert has paid an emotional tribute to his Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team mate Michael Goolaerts, who died on Sunday evening after sustaining a cardiac arrest while taking part in Paris-Roubaix earlier that day.

World cyclo-cross champion van Aert, who was also riding in the race, yesterday published an open letter on his personal website in which he wrote of his memories of his team mates, of how he had learnt what had happened, and how he and the rest of the team passed the hours after the race hoping that their friend and colleague would pull through.

Here is the full text of his letter, which he published under the heading, Rest In Peace, Michael!

My thoughts go out to my team mate, Michael Goolaerts, who lost his life yesterday.

No report of my race on my website today, because it’s of no importance. Yes, I worked for weeks ahead of Paris-Roubaix – my favourite cobbled Classic. I wanted to finish a solid springtime on the road in style, with a big performance, and then enjoy a well-deserved holiday with Sarah [his fianceé].

Sadly, the situation is totally different; all my results this spring disappeared with the death of our team mate Michael Goolaerts. So I end my road campaign with a very bitter taste in my mouth.

It’s still unreal. I’ve known Michael since I was a junior rider. We were both born in 1994 and, what’s more, we’re from the same region. We therefore rode alongside each other for a long time as rivals, we weren’t team mates until last year.

I remember Michael as someone who smiled, who was never malicious and was always extremely motivated. A lad full of talent, even if he needed a bit more time then me to grow into it. In fact, he had taken a big step forward this year. The fact that he got himself noticed more than I did throughout the spring says a lot about his mentality."

Paris-Roubaix was also Michael’s dream race. Last Wednesday, we went with the team to explore Hell. We also spoke to each other during the race, once the first break had gone. He was going to help me for as long as he could. That didn’t happen.

No, I never knew what had happened during the race. The team manager decided not to tell me, and I think that was the right decision. At the time, everyone was still in the dark about Michael’s situation. The hope that everything would be okay stayed intact for a long time.

It wasn’t until after the race that I was told of the situation. I spent the following hours with my team mates, at first on the team bus, then at the team hotel in Nazareth. We tried to support each other all of us continuing to hope for a positive sign. Sadly, it never came.

In the late evening, Michael lost his battle, a battle that clearly he could not win. ‘The Hell of the North leads to heaven’ is the slogan of the race. I don’t know what to make of that today.

I didn’t just lose a fantastic team mate, but also a good friend. Sarah and I have in the meantime decided to cancel our holiday – we were due to leave for a three-week trip along the US West Coast on Wednesday. There’s no way we would have enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t want to miss Michael’s funeral, whatever the reason.

Finally, on behalf of Sarah and myself, I wish lots of strength to all those who loved Michael. May I make a request? Please keep Michael’s memory alive. Remember him as I will – as this kind of playful guy with that eternal smile. He will always be a source of inspiration. Rest in peace up there, comrade!

Meanwhile, Het Nieuwsblad reports that a small shrine, with a block of pavé as its centrepiece, has been put in place by fans at the spot on the race route’s second cobbled sector where Goolaerts fell.

It is believed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest before coming off his bike. Doctors administered CPR to him at the scene before he was taken by helicopter to hospital in Lille.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.