Death of Gino Mader: “Shock but no surprise as cycling searches for explanations”
Nearly a year has passed since Tom Pidcock of Britain won a stage of the Tour de France with a stunning performance that perfectly balanced boldness and technique in his descent of the Col du Galibier.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider was thereafter dubbed a daredevil, a remarkable talent that amazes cycling enthusiasts with his ability to travel downhill at incredible speeds.
The road seemed to veer left and right under his control as he made that day’s magnificent descent of the Galibier.
Although it was amazing, he was occasionally traveling at speeds of over 100 km/h (62 mph) and relying on his quick reflexes, which one commentator called “real heart-in-mouth stuff.”
Gino Mader, a 26-year-old Swiss climber who had already won a Grand Tour stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2021, was scheduled to compete in this year’s Tour de France, which gets underway on July 1.
In the Tour de Suisse, his home race, on Thursday, he was hoping to duplicate the sort of accomplishment Pidcock accomplished in France the previous year.
However, he veered off the road as he sped down the final downhill. Although the cause of the accident is still unknown, Mader’s death was reported on Friday, which was a completely different and devastating ending.
Surprise but not much surprise
A representative from one of the largest teams stated that there had been “a lot of tears” and that their riders were “distraught” during the race, demonstrating the overwhelming sense of astonishment that pervaded the peloton and team buses.
So, yes, that was shocking. However, it also doesn’t seem shocking that cycling has lost a lot of talent to the pressures of road racing, where the rewards for gaining time can be substantial depending on how much each rider is willing to sacrifice.
Bike racing is a “inherently and incredibly dangerous sport,” according to Jonathan Vaughters, the manager of the American team EF Education-EasyPost, because it entails “such high speeds and such little protection.”
Twelve years have passed since the sport lost a rider under comparable circumstances at this level, Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt, who perished in a high-speed crash during the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Since then, there have been more professional cycling fatalities—many, but not all of them on public roads while practicing.
In addition, Belgium’s Bjorg Lambrecht fell while cycling in the peloton at the Tour of Poland in 2019, while the Netherlands’ Michael Goolearts experienced a cardiac episode at Paris-Roubaix in 2018. He fell into a ditch, ran into a concrete culvert, and later passed away in the hospital as a result of his wounds.
The number of riders who have, luckily, survived crashes despite suffering catastrophic injuries is also too high to list.
Fabio Jakobsen’s severe wounds from his horrific crash in Poland in 2020 are among them.
There are also the frequent concussions that riders sustain, the mid- to long-term repercussions of which are still little understood.
Before Mader’s death was made public, Remco Evenepoel of Belgium, a world champion and Jakobsen’s teammate at Soudal-Quick Step, expressed his hope that what had happened would serve as “food for thought for organizers” and that riders “need to think about the risks we take going down a mountain.”
After his own extremely concerning crash during a descent in the 2020 Tour of Lombardy, which resulted in his falling 30 feet into a ravine and suffering significant injuries and blood loss, the mere fact that he is here to express those thoughts may be considered a miracle in and of itself.
The Tour de Suisse is a customary prelude to the Tour de France and a competitive World Tour event in and of itself.
It effectively booksends the peloton and team vehicles with a rolling road block of police motorcycles and cars, all of which pass fans at close range.
The fast Alpine route that Mader crashed on is plotted out and raced just like any other top-tier competition.
Following the passing of her son Gino during the 2023 Tour de Suisse Road race, world champion cyclist Remco Evenepoel comforts Gino Mader’s mother.
Safety will always be a priority.
There is no simple way to increase safety in a sport that is notable for allowing competitors to race as quickly as they can downhill on closed public roads without any protection but a helmet.
And even when such roads are closed, vehicles frequently find a way onto the race, as was the case last week with the incidents that caused the women’s Tour de Pyrenees to be canceled.
During the 2017 Tour de France, a fan who was carrying a banner for television cameras when it happened caused a massive pile-up, and animals have also been involved in accidents.
According to BBC Sport, the UCI, the sport’s global governing body, will soon release new safety measures and guidelines that were created before Mader’s accident.
They can discuss the conduct of spectators around the course and offer suggestions for safer race management.
However, it is unlikely that they will have the solution to preventing fatal tragedies like the one that occurred on Thursday.
Adam Hansen, a former professional cyclist who is aware of the risks on the road, has emerged as a popular and energetic new leader for the riders’ union Cyclistes Professionnels Associes (CPA).
Although he stated that “now is not the time to discuss this,” the matter is undoubtedly on his agenda.
The stakes in sports shouldn’t be life or death. However, the entire existence of the sport is questioned after the terrible death of any athlete.
Processes and protocols are altered after a racing driver passes away to lower the dangers. The ‘halo’ head protection used in Formula 1 is a successful example of a tweak that worked.
Reduced ring time, rehydration measures, and frequent mentions of head protection are all present in boxing.
But what about road cycling, which is almost unique in that it occurs outside of a stadium or a track and in which there are several barriers on public roads?
put a speed limit in place? Don’t descend? You might as well forbid ascending hills altogether.
After winning a stage of the Tour de France last year, Pidcock assured this writer, “I’m not stupid. “I am aware of my limitations.”
He is the only one who can truly know at the time, thus there is no reason not to believe him.
But Mader showed courage. also gifted. and competent. He’ll have been aware of his limitations.
But things turned out very differently for him.