Cycling: A Race to Remember, Sadly

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1995

Cycling: A Race to Remember, Sadly
By Todd Balf (with John Alderman)

Miguel Indurain's unprecedented fifth straight victory in the the Tour de France last July was indeed impressive, but the race probably won't be remembered for Big Mig's riding. The death of Team Motorola cyclist Fabio Casartelli in a crash on a high-speed descent in the Pyrenees--the Tour's first fatality since 1967--and its emotional aftermath took center stage, infusing the 23-day, 2,333-mile race with genuinely epic qualities of tragedy and triumph. "The death of Fabio was one of the saddest moments I've ever experienced in cycling," said Paul Sherwen, an official with Team Motorola. "But the 16th stage also proved to me that the sport still has a human face." He was referring to the next day's tribute to the 24-year-old Italian, in which the 118-rider peloton rode practically arm-in-arm from the start in Tarbes to the finish 156 miles later in Pau. In the final few miles, the pack ushered Casartelli's teammates to the front, where they crossed the finish line together. Team Motorola was as surprised as anyone. "There was nothing scripted at the end," says Jim Ochowicz, the team's directeur sportif. "It was just a natural reaction by the riders." Motorola had come close to withdrawing after Casartelli's death--"The whole Tour was such a roller coaster," says Ochowicz--and in fact when Lance Armstrong won the 18th stage two days later, the celebration was limited to half a glass of champagne. Armstrong himself, whose mixed-bag Tour included a bone-rattling crash in the fifth stage that almost forced him to withdraw, gestured to the heavens as he rode across the finish line in Limoges. Then he steered straight for the clutch of media from Casartelli's homeland. "Today," he said in broken Italian, "I rode with the strength of two men."

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