Bjorg Lambrechts death in the Tour de Pologne on Monday was the eighth of an international rider since 2016. Is the sport really worth it?
It is almost 25 years since I stood in the French town of Pau on a July afternoon in 1995 and watched the six members of the Motorola team, including a young Lance Armstrong, ride into the Tour de France stage finish a few hundred metres in front of the peloton. It remains the single most impressive and affecting memory I can summon up in over 30 years of following cycling.
The men of the Tour had taken eight hours to ride that days mountain stage over some of the races greatest ascents at the pace of a funeral cortege, in honour of the Italian Olympic champion Fabio Casartelli, who had died the previous afternoon after falling off at high speed on the descent of the Col du Portet dAspet; on Tuesday the field of the Tour de Pologne paid an identical tribute to the young Belgian Bjorg Lambrecht.
The 22-year-old, one of the brightest young prospects in world cycling, had left the road and crashed 48 kilometres into Mondays stage and died in the race ambulance on the way to hospital. His teammates rode across Tuesdays finish line in Kocierz in formation, as Motorola had that day in Pau, with the same black armbands on their shoulders.
Lambrechts death prompted an outpouring of emotion among professional cyclists, amateur racers and those who follow the sport, as did Casartellis. Cycling remains a small world, ruled by a few degrees of separation. My son, who is the same age, dug out a photograph from a Belgian amateur race a few years back. That is Bjorg, he said, and there I am, riding next to him.
The death of Casartelli was definitely a landmark, because it took place in the most high-profile cycle race of them all. Another was the death of the Kazakh Andrei Kivilev in the 2003 Paris-Nice; that tragedy prompted the UCI to make it compulsory for professionals to wear protective hard-shell helmets. It seems incredible now but a dozen years earlier, professionals had gone on strike and forced the UCI to backtrack after an earlier attempt to make helmets mandatory.
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