Tour de Suisse: Leading riders come together to honour Gino MaderIt’s nearly a year since Britain’s Tom Pidcock displayed the perfect blend of bravery and skill as his superb descent of the Col du Galibier set up his brilliant stage win on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France.
Afterwards, the Ineos Grenadiers rider was immediately labelled a daredevil – an astonishing talent whose ability to go downhill at jaw-dropping speeds thrills cycling fans.
During his sublime descent of the Galibier that day it seemed as if the road was snaking left and right under his command.
It was awe-inspiring, but travelling at speeds of over 100km/h (62mph) at times, he was right on the limit and relying on his lightning reactions – real “heart-in-mouth stuff”, as one commentator described it.
Gino Mader, a 26-year-old Swiss climbing specialist who was already a Grand Tour stage winner at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, was set to take part in this year’s Tour de France, which starts on 1 July.
On Thursday, riding in his home race, the Tour de Suisse, he was hoping to repeat the kind of feat Pidcock had performed in France last year.
But, as he raced down the final descent at high speed, he left the road. While the reason for the crash is not yet clear, there was a very different and tragic outcome, with Mader’s death announced on Friday.
Shock but little surpriseThe huge sense of shock in the peloton and on the team buses at the race was clear, with a figure at one of the biggest teams saying there had been “a lot of tears” and that their riders were “distraught”.
So it was shocking, yes. But there also appears to be little surprise that cycling has lost a huge talent to the pressures of competition on the road – where the gap between what different riders are willing to risk means the rewards when it comes to gaining time can be big.
Jonathan Vaughters, the boss of American team EF Education-EasyPost, said bike racing is an “inherently and incredibly dangerous sport” which involves “such high speeds and such little protection”.
It is 12 years since the sport lost a rider in similar circumstances at such a high level, when Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt died in a crash descending at speed during the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Since then there have been more deaths of professional cyclists, many, but not all, on public roads during training sessions.
In addition, in 2018 the Netherlands’ Michael Goolearts suffered a cardiac arrest at Paris-Roubaix and in 2019 Belgium’s Bjorg Lambrecht crashed while riding in the peloton during the Tour of Poland. He landed in a ditch and hit a concrete culvert, subsequently dying from his injuries in hospital.
And the number of severe injuries caused in crashes that, mercifully, riders have survived are too numerous to mention.
They include the massive injuries sustained by Fabio Jakobsen in his horrendous crash in Poland in 2020.
Then there are also the numerous concussions suffered by riders, of which we still know so little of the mid- to long-term effects.
It was Jakobsen’s Soudal-Quick Step team-mate – the world champion Remco Evenepoel of Belgium – who said after the crash, before Mader’s death was announced, that he hoped what had happened was “food for thought for organisers” and that “riders need to think about the risks we take going down a mountain”.
The fact he is here to impart those views could be viewed as a miracle in itself after his own extremely worrying crash on a descent in the 2020 Tour of Lombardy, which saw him fall 30 feet into a ravine and suffer substantial injuries and blood loss.
The Tour de Suisse is a traditional warm-up race for the Tour de France and an elite level World Tour race in its own right.
It uses an efficient rolling road block of police motorbikes and cars to bookend the peloton and team vehicles, all of which whizz by, inches from spectators.
The descent on which Mader’s crash occurred is a fast Alpine road mapped out and raced the same as any other top level event.
Road race world champion Remco Evenepoel was among the riders to console Gino Mader’s motherSafety forever on the agendaThere is no easy answer to improve safety in a sport unique for the fact is allows its competitors to travel unprotected – save for a helmet – as fast as they can downhill on closed public roads.
And even when those roads are closed, cars and buses often find their way on to the course, as shown last week in incidents which led to the cancellation of the women’s Tour de Pyrenees.
There was the monumental pile-up caused by a fan who stepped out into the approaching peloton holding a banner for TV cameras during last year’s Tour de France, while animals have also caused incidents.
BBC Sport understands the sport’s world governing body the UCI will publish new safety guidance and protocols imminently, but ones which were written before Mader’s crash.
They may address the behaviour of fans by the roadside and give guidance on how race organisers should run races more safely.
But they are unlikely to contain the answer on how to put a stop to tragic accidents such as the one that happened on Thursday.
The rider’s union Cyclistes Professionnels Associes (CPA) has a much-admired and active new leader in former professional Adam Hansen, who knows the dangers on the road.
He said “now is not the time to discuss this”, but the issue is certainly part of his agenda.
Sport should not be about life or death. But following the tragic loss of any sportsperson, the very existence of the activity is called into question.
When a racing driver dies, processes and protocols are adjusted to reduce the risks. The ‘halo’ head protection in Formula 1 is a working example of a successful change.
In boxing the length of time in the ring was reduced, rehydration protocols were introduced and head protection is often mentioned.
But what do you do with road cycling – virtually unique in that it takes place outside of a stadium or track and where there are obstacles everywhere on public roads?
Introduce a speed limit? Ban descending? You might as well ban going uphill in the first place.
“I’m not daft,” Pidcock told this writer last year after his Tour de France stage win. “I know where my limits are.”
There’s no reason not to believe him – only he really knows in the moment.
But Mader was brave. And talented. And professional. He will have been able to sense his limits.
The outcome for him, though, was so very different.