Cape Town - South African track cycling champion Jeanne Nell died after a “freak accident” where he was caught between two fellow cyclists on a sharp bend at a Keirin cycling event at the Bellville Velodrome.
Nell, 30, who was hoping to qualify for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Scotland, died in hospital of head injuries after falling head-first on top of his bike on Tuesday night.
Originally from Port Elizabeth, he moved to Cape Town six years ago and was living with his girlfriend. He represented South Africa at the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester in 2013.
Nell was the current 1 500m, Keirin and team sprint South African champion. He represented South Africa several times and last year won a silver medal in the Keirin race at an event in Perth.
Keirin is an event where cyclists start out behind a small motorbike.
The riders follow the motorbike for four laps as it picks up speed to 55km/h.
The motorbike then leaves the track and the cyclists sprint the last two laps to the finish line, reaching speeds of up to 75km/h.
Six cyclists were taking part in the race on Tuesday night.
Nell was one of three riders racing towards the finish line.
“Jeanne was with two guys going for the finish. He was in the middle of the two guys, approaching the last corner. I don’t know what went wrong, because he fell very hard on his head,” said track director Johan Smith from the Western Province Cycling Association, who was also the commentator on the night at the event.
“It’s tragic that this has happened to him. He was just a kind person who loved cycling and was always inspiring young cyclists.”
Smith said the riders were travelling at full speed at the time – about 75km/h.
“They were only a few metres from the finish. It was a freak accident.”
Nell’s sister, Annette Lötter, who lives in Port Elizabeth, said the family was still reeling with shock.
“It still feels like I am dreaming. We received a call last night that he had been in an accident during a race. My parents rushed to Cape Town. On their way there, they were told that he had passed away.
“He loved cycling so much. Six years ago he moved to Cape Town because he wanted to be involved in the sport where he could race on big tracks and take his career to the next level,” Lötter said.
“I am still confused and devastated about this. It’s the most painful thing we have experienced.”
Elriek Kulsen, who was at the race at the time of the accident, said: “It was shocking how the accident happened. I think he lost control of his bicycle as he was turning the last corner. (No one left) after the accident. We all stayed there and hoped for the best.”
SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) president Gideon Sam expressed his condolences.
“This time last year we were still reeling with shock at the loss of Olympic cyclist Burry Stander.
“A year later and we are again in mourning for one of our sporting fraternity. Our hearts go out to Jeanne’s family, friends and loved ones.”
Cycling SA said it was devastated at the news.
“The track cycling community is a close community, we’re all like family,” Cycling SA president William Newman said.
MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport Ivan Meyer said: “It is with much sadness that I note the passing of multiple track cycling champion Jeanne Nell. His tragic fall during the Keirin race at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town... and his subsequent death is a devastating blow to cycling.”