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A time for tears

At 2 p.m. on September 17, the U.S. cycling community cried. There was nothing else it could do. After the shock and disbelief, the impact of the news set in: Nicole Reinhart was pronounced dead at 1:27 p.m. America had lost one of its brightest stars: the 24-year-old Saturn sprinter who always had a smile and a greeting for whomever she met. September 17 was supposed to be a shot at glory for Reinhart in Arlington, Massachusetts. At stake was the $250,000 prize offered by the organizers of the BMC Software Grand Prix for any rider who could win all four races in the series: Austin,

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Cycling loses Reinhart in Arlington

By Bryan Jew

A true champion: Reinhartexuded style and gracewherever she went.

A true champion: Reinhartexuded style and gracewherever she went.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

At 2 p.m. on September 17, the U.S. cycling community cried. There was nothing else it could do. After the shock and disbelief, the impact of the news set in: Nicole Reinhart was pronounced dead at 1:27 p.m. America had lost one of its brightest stars: the 24-year-old Saturn sprinter who always had a smile and a greeting for whomever she met.

September 17 was supposed to be a shot at glory for Reinhart in Arlington, Massachusetts. At stake was the $250,000 prize offered by the organizers of the BMC Software Grand Prix for any rider who could win all four races in the series: Austin, Houston, San Jose and Arlington. Reinhart had won the first three.

Reinhart was a nervous bundle of energy in the morning, and the Saturn team had pulled out all the stops, including five spare bikes and 15 sets of spare wheels spread out across the 3.5-mile Arlington circuit. The day’s course was a difficult one, and it included a tough climb that had some people discounting sprinter Reinhart’s chances at collecting the quarter-million dollars.

It wasn’t the hill that put her in trouble early on, though, but rather the dangerous descent, which saw several crashes in the opening laps. On the second lap, Reinhart was caught behind one of those crashes, and gapped off the main group.

Everybody in the race knew that Saturn only cared about one rider winning, and the entire powerhouse team waited to pull Reinhart across the two-minute gap to the main field.

Once there, she stayed there, her tenacity and ability to hang each time over the climb a testament to how far the former track rider had developed in her two seasons on the road with Saturn — and a promise of how much potential she had for the future.

On the final lap, Reinhart continued to show off her tremendous fight — her other trademark, which was the perfect complement to the ever-present smile — cresting the hill in first position. But on the descent, tragedy struck. Setting up for a tricky turn, the Saturn rider hit a pothole and then went careening headfirst into a tree.

Down below at the finish, no one had any idea. The crowd was lined against the fencing in anticipation. The Saturn men were there too, waiting like little kids on Christmas for Reinhart to deliver the victory.

But that victory never came.

A small group sprinted to the line, led by Tina Mayolo and Laura Van Gilder, but no Reinhart. The minutes ticked by, yet still no sign of the No. 1 plate.

And then, word began to trickle in, in hushed tones over radios and cell phones. Over the loudspeakers, the race organizers announced a 45-minute delay of the men’s race, but gave no public word on Reinhart’s condition.

As time continued to pass, the concern deepened. The medical personnel on the scene could not resuscitate the fallen rider, and she had been taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Back at the race, the Saturn team sat in the shade of its team van, not wanting to believe. Nobody wanted to believe it.

Then came the final word over the loudspeaker. For a moment, there was silence, and then the cries began. For some, the sobbing was uncontrollable; others just stared in disbelief. Teammates and rivals tried to console one another and make some sense out of what had happened.

Eventually, members of the men’s peloton began to congregate spontaneously at the start line. And after a few minutes, the group took off — led by the Saturn men — for one final lap around Arlington to bid farewell to Reinhart.

In their own time, the crowd, the riders and team personnel began to disperse, all trying somehow to leave the day behind them. And there was nothing left to do but cry.