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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews
For most of the 10 Australians in this year’s Tour de France, Tuesday’s 180.5km 16th stage from Mourenx to Pau marked the second time in 48 hours they mourned the tragic loss of a fellow rider.
On Sunday’s 15th stage, many wore an armband to commemorate the 1994 death of Italian Olympic gold medallist Fabio Casartelli who was killed in a horrible crash descending the Pyrénées on July 18 of that year.
On Tuesday, they did so again, this time to mark the passing of a compatriot, Amy Gillett, who was killed in Germany as she and her teammates were preparing for the Thuringen Rundfahrt.
Gillet and the rest of the Australian national team were on a training ride in eastern Germany on Tuesday morning, when an inexperienced 18-year-old driver crossed the centerline and plowed into the group of six riders.
Gillet’s teammates, Louise Yaxley and Alexis Rhodes, were in intensive care with multiple injuries on Tuesday, while Katie Brown, Kate Nichols and Lorian Graham are reported to be in a stable condition.
“The other day I was wearing an armband for Casaertelli. Now I am wearing an armband for a fellow Australian,” said a shocked South Australian Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) before the 16th stage got under way. “I’m devastated. I’m shocked. We feel so sorry for her family our thoughts are with them. And I hope the other girls who are in critical condition come through on the good side.”
O’Grady, who like most of the Australians in the Tour knew Gillett and her teammates, admitted hearing the news as they woke up made continuing in the Tour difficult.
“It’s hard for everyone. It’s hard to continue and go out and race. There are things much bigger than sport in life,” said O’Grady. “We have to get in with our job. Unfortunately, what we do is very dangerous. But I am sure their families and everyone would want us to keep going. It’s a sign of our support to keep on racing.”
O’Grady’s sentiments were shared by the other Australians in the Tour, of which the full compliment is still in the race which finishes after 3607 kilometers in Paris on Sunday.
As O’Grady’s teammate, New South Wales resident Matt White exited the team bus to race, he simply said that the news “is devastating for everyone involved.”
Queensland sprinter and national champion Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was stunned after hearing of the accident.
“It’s tragic. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I found out this morning,” he said. “My thoughts are with all the girls from the team and all their support staff and, of course, their families and friends.”
McEwen’s teammate, Victorian Cadel Evans said he was shocked when he learned of the accident.
“I don’t think words can do anything,” Evans said. “I don’t know how many people have to get killed before society realize how dangerous motor vehicles are. I feel sorry for them, their friends and family. Very sorry.”
Another to comment includes Victorian sprinter Baden Cook (Française des Jeux) said the incident underscores the dangers cyclists of all sorts face every day.
“It’s every cyclist’s nightmare to be involved in an accident like that. You do everything you can to avoid crashes,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter how good a bike rider you are or how careful you are, a car plowing into you well you can’t do anything about that. I would like to send my condolences to the families of all involved.
Tour rookie Simon Gerrans (Ag2R) recalls meeting the Australian women’s team members in the Bay Classic criterium series in Victoria each year.
“What terrible news. I have met most of the girls on the Bay Classic,” he said. “An accident like that is something that every cyclist dreads and for it to happen to our national team is unbelievable. My deepest condolences go out to all the families”