Reflections on Fabio Casartelli
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Rest Day 2 Reflections on Fabio Casartelli By Chris Carmichael I’ve been thinking a lot about Fabio Casartelli over the past few days. I didn’t actually know the young man while he was alive, but his life and untimely death ten years ago during the 1995 Tour de France had such an impact on the people close to me that he’s left an indelible mark on my life as well.
I remember hearing about Casartelli from Max Testa in 1992. I was the coach for the men’s road team preparing for the Barcelona Olympics, and Max told me there was this very talented Italian kid who had a real chance of winning the Olympic road race. This was back in the days before the pros were eligible to compete in cycling events at the Olympics, and Fabio Casartelli was one of the riders I told our team, including Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie, to watch out for in Barcelona.
Sure enough, Max was right. Casartelli could climb, sprint, and ride your legs off on anything in between. He was the complete package, a rider who was just over one year older than Armstrong and more advanced as a cyclist. Lance had some very strong performances in the months leading up to the Barcelona Games and was one of the favorites for the gold medal. Yet, the day and the gold medal belonged to the young Italian rider, and I remember Lance being quite impressed by him.
Following the Olympics, Lance turned pro for Motorola and George continued as an amateur until he joined Lance on Motorola in 1994. A year later, Jim Ochowicz brought Casartelli onto the team from ZG-Mobili, and all three became fast friends. I met Fabio a few times in passing at team camps or races, and though I never had the chance to get to know him, it was clear Lance’s original impressions about him in 1992 were true. He was a very talented rider who worked hard; he was kind and friendly, and he seemed destined for big things in cycling.
Fabio was selected for the 1995 Tour de France along with Lance Armstrong, Frankie Andreu, Sean Yates, Steve Swart, Steve Bauer, Kaspars Ozers, Andrea Peron, and Alvaro Mejia. When he died after a crash on the slopes of the Portet d’Aspet, he was just shy of his 25th birthday. Lance was just a few months away from turning 24. Now, Lance is nearing his 34th birthday and I’m amazed by how much has changed and how much Fabio has missed.
Lance Armstrong went on to battle through cancer and come back to win the Tour de France six times, and in another week that could become seven times. Sean Yates continued racing and is now in one of the Discovery Channel team cars during the Tour de France. Frankie Andreu went on to be an integral part of Lance’s comeback and first triumphs at the Tour. Andrea Peron is still racing, and Steve Bauer is here at the Tour de France with his cycling camps. And since 1995, George Hincapie has won the USPRO Championship, Ghent-Wevelgem, stood on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, helped Lance win six yellow jerseys, and won the hardest mountain stage of the 2005 Tour de France wearing an armband with Fabio’s name on it. Most of all, Fabio has missed seeing his son grow up. Marco was just a few months old in July of 1995. Now he’s ten, but he never had a chance to get to know his father.
I’ve been in this sport for a long time. I started racing in 1969 and I had the privilege of competing and riding all over the world. When I look back to all of the close calls, near misses, and bad wrecks I’ve been through over the past 30-plus years, it sometimes makes me wonder why I’ve continued riding as long as I have. I have young children at home, just as Lance and George do now, and I can’t imagine not seeing them grow up or not being there for them as they mature.
I’ve changed the way I ride since I had children. Like many old pros from my era, I rode without a helmet for decades. Now I don’t throw my leg over the top tube without strapping on a helmet. I descend more carefully and play more nicely with traffic as well. I do what I can to minimize the risks while maximizing the benefits of riding. It’s a part of my life, the way I stay healthy, and the way I connect to my past.
For Lance, George, and many other professional cyclists, cycling is how they make a living to support their families. People ask me why anyone would take the risk of flying down a mountain pass with no guardrails, attached to the ground by two square centimeters of rubber, wearing only a foam and plastic helmet. Looking back over the past two weeks of racing, with Lance and his kids and George and his daughter, and with my Anna and Connor waiting for me a few stages from here, I believe we accept these risks hopefully to provide more comfortable lives for our children.
Fabio Casartelli has been an important example, to Lance and George, and to me, of how quickly everything can be taken from you. The sincerity with which his life is still commemorated, ten years later, also shows that yellow jerseys and championships aren’t what legacies are made of; but rather, we are remembered for the lives we lead, however long or tragically short.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s personal coach and founder of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). His latest book, Chris Carmichael’s Fitness Cookbook, is now available and you can register for a chance to win a ride with the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team at www.trainright.com.