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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Tour tragedy 10 years on
By Matt Majendie

Fabio Casartelli (left) and the monument in his honour
Fabio Casartelli (left) and the monument in his honour
On Monday, the peloton will get some welcome respite from the Pyrenees with the second rest day of this year's Tour de France.

But for many, the day marks a far more poignant moment - the 10-year anniversary of Fabio Casartelli's death on the descent of the Col du Portet d'Aspet, a spot the riders passed on Sunday.

The then 24-year-old's death still has a massive impact on much of the pack, not least Lance Armstrong, Casartelli's team-mate at the time of the tragedy.

Armstrong himself admits riding past the spot of Casartelli's death is "always difficult for me".

Another team-mate a decade ago was Britain's Sean Yates, who had already retired from the race at that stage and carried Casartelli's coffin at the funeral.

Yates told BBC Sport: "There's only one real low point that stands out in my career and that's when my Fabio crashed and died. I remember having to go to the funeral. It was devastating.

"I finally managed to go back to the grave this year and remembered the exact spot. It was a very emotional time.

"And, looking back, it was all the more so as Fabio had only just snuck the last spot in the team ahead of George Hincapie (Armstrong's team-mate again this year)."

Casartelli had been a model professional and had won gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Motorola cross the line en masse the day after Casartelli's death
Motorola cross the line en masse the day after Casartelli's death
On the day in question - 18 July, 1995 - the Italian, whose wife Annalisa had only just given birth to their son Marco, set off from St Girons to Cauterets.

On the brief descent on one of the day's six climbs, Casartelli was one of a number of cyclists to come off their bikes on a solitary left-hand hairpin on the twisting roads.

As he fell at 60mph, his head struck one of the concrete blocks that stop cars tipping over the cliff edge.

He was tended to by race doctor Gerard Porte and immediately airlifted to hospital. But, while in the helicopter, he suffered three heart attacks and was later pronounced dead.

His mother, Rosa, recently recalled to ProCycling magazine: "I overheard the commentators talking about a crash. They said it was a Motorola rider and my heart skipped a beat.

"I rushed upstairs; the camera had zoomed in on the race number. It was 114 - Fabio's number.

"I started running about the floor shouting 'no, no, no!' I thought 'OK, he's fallen but...' Then I started calling France.

"Finally Massimo Testa, the Motorola team doctor, called..."

Debate has raged whether Casartelli would have survived had he been wearing a cycle helmet.

Porte insists a helmet would not have made any difference because it would not have protected the part of his head that struck the concrete block.

Lance Armstrong wins at Limoges three days after his friend's death
Lance Armstrong paid tribute to his friend when winning three days later

The day after Casartelli's death, all the riders held a minute's silence in a stunning show of solidarity.

Casartelli's Motorola team were also allowed to finish the uncontested stage in front, with room-mate Andrea Peron given the honour of leading them over the line.

At the time, l'Equipe newspaper wrote: "This sport is so dog eat dog, for 130 guys to come together like that showed the class of the peloton."

And two days later, Armstrong stormed to a stage victory in his own right in Limoges, raising his head and hands to the sky to honour his friend, who himself had targeted victory that day.

All money won by Motorola on that stage also went to the Casartelli family, while the Societe du Tour de France and the Italian's team have since erected a monument in his honour.

The organisers gather at it each year to pay their respects while Armstrong regularly visits the Casartelli family.

On Monday, the Texan's thoughts will no doubt be with Fabio again.



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