Team Sky pulled out Saturday of the 2010 Vuelta a España following a death of a staff member who died of a bacterial infection.
The British-backed ProTour team announced overnight it would not start Saturday’s eighth following the death of Txema González, a masseur well-known within the tightly-knit European cycling community.
González, 43, died Friday in Sevilla and Team Sky officials were quick to point out that his death was not connected to the early departure of three riders in the first week of the Vuelta.
In a team statement released overnight Saturday, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said in a team release that “this is the only decision we can make.”
“We have considered all the elements very carefully and this is the only decision we could take. It’s the right one — to show respect to Txema and to look after our team,” Brailsford said. “Others — staff and riders — have been ill during this Tour and Juan Antonio Flecha pulled out on. The medical conditions are different, but we need to take care of our team.”
The team’s unexpected departure from its third grand tour of its debut season suggests deep emotions within the team structure. González was a popular figure on the European cycling circuit and several riders at the Vuelta have suffered upset stomachs, fever and vomiting.
Earlier Friday, Team Sky officials were quick to clarify there was no medical connection between Gonzalez’ unexpected death and the early departure of three Team Sky riders in then first week of the 2010 Vuelta.
Team Sky officials said Friday that González died of a bacterial infection.
“Txema contracted a bacterial infection which entered the bloodstream and developed in a sepsis,” Team Sky��s head of medical Dr. Steve Peters said in a statement. “The toxins from this had damaged the organs in his body and he went into a septic shock and unfortunately succumbed to that.
“I should also clarify that this bacterial infection has nothing to do with the viral infection which many of the team have suffered with in Spain, causing stomach upset.”
Riders were unaware of the bad news until they arrived at the Team Sky bus at the end of the stage in Orihuela.
A native of Vitoria in Spain’s Basque Country, González raced as an amateur and worked with Euskaltel-Euskadi and Saunier Duval before joining Team Sky.
Speaking on Spanish TV, Vuelta race director Javier Guillén expressed his condolences.
“We just found about it. It’s disastrous news,” Guillén said. “We had heard that he was in bad condition, but we never expected this. We never could have imagined this would have happened. He’s part of the cycling family, part of the Vuelta. We will honor his memory tomorrow morning before the start, that’s the least we can do. This is very, very sad news.”
Team Sky officials had kept the news under wraps, but Spanish journalists noticed that the veteran assistant was not on the race as planned.
Three Team Sky members have pulled out of the Vuelta since Sunday’s start. Juan Antonio Flecha was admitted to a hospital overnight, but started Friday’s stage only to abandon midway through the race.
Earlier this week, John Lee Augustyn and Ben Swift pulled out with a mysterious virus that’s sweeping through the team.
The source of the virus is not clear, but Team Sky officials have ruled out food poisoning.
“We are devastated to report that Txema tragically passed away on Friday evening in hospital in Sevilla. His close family were with him,” said Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “Txema will be remembered as a warm-hearted colleague who was a joy to work with and was universally respected by our team and throughout the pro cycling scene. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”