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By Andrew Hood
Italian rider Alessio Galletti complained of breathing trouble and chest pain just moments before stepping off his bike and dying of a heart attack in Wednesday’s Subida al Naranco one-day race in northern Spain.
“I feel bad, I can’t breathe,” complained the 37-year-old just 15km from the finish line in the hilly race in Spain’s Asturias region.
Those were his last words as the father of one and another on the way stepped out of his pedals, sat on the side of the road and collapsed.
Born March 26, 1968 in Pisa, Italy, Galletti wasn’t a natural-born winner. During his 12 years as a pro, which began in 1994 with Lampre, he only won four races. His job wasn’t to win, but to help others win, such as Pavel Tonkov, Mario Fondriest and Gilberto Simoni.
One of the oldest riders in the peloton, Galletti said his greatest satisfaction came when he rode as part of Mario Cipollini’s train at Saeco (1999-2001) and last season at Domina Vacanze.
“I know that I don’t fill up the pages with victories, but I feel proud for the confidence the directors have placed in me to work,” he said in an interview two years ago.
According to witnesses, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Galletti was jovial at the morning sign-in and revealed no symptoms of the tragedy waiting on the road to the Naranco climb high above Oviedo.
“Before the race, we didn’t notice anything was wrong at all,” said teammate Sergio Marinangeli. “We’re all just utterly destroyed.”
About 30 other riders were part of a group riding off the back of the race with no chance of winning as they hit the lower ramps of the La Manzaneda climb, the penultimate of the day.
The pace wasn’t particularly hard, but Galletti drifted off the back, complaining of breathing problems and chest pain. He stepped out of his pedals, sat down on the asphalt and pulled his hands to his mouth before losing consciousness.
Riders couldn’t immediately comprehend the tragedy that was unfolding in front of them and scrambled off their bikes to help their fallen comrade.
“It happened so fast. He said his chest was hurting and then collapsed,” Marinangeli said. “He just fell off right on the road and we tried to do what we could. He was right in our arms until the ambulance arrived.”
The race doctor, the same who saved Alberto Contador’s life last year, was following the lead group of riders up the road and was left unaware of the emergency. Up ahead, another Italian, Rinaldo Nocentini, won not realizing that Galletti lie dead on the side of the road.
One rider and a policeman futilely gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR to revive the veteran Italian. An ambulance didn’t arrive for another 40 minutes.
Galletti was declared dead at the scene and transported to Central Hospital of Asturias in Oviedo. An autopsy conducted Thursday confirmed the cause of death as a heart attack. Galletti’s body will be flown to Madrid then to Rome later this week.
Naturino-Sapore di Mare officials said the team would return to Italy rather than take its planned start in the Vuelta a Asturias, which began Thursday.
“We don’t have the head to even think about starting a bike race. We’re obviously going home,” said team manager Fabio Beccherini. The team later announced it would return to racing at the Settimani Tricole on June 21.
Galletti was a father of a one-year-old son while his wife, Consuelo, is pregnant with the couple’s second child. He was 37.