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How does Australian cycling recover from German tragedy?

Australian cycling is crippled in pain by the death of national road team member Amy Gillett and the injuries of her five teammates from an out of control car plowing into them while training in Germany on Monday. The healing process for the sport and the many individuals affected by what happened has only just begun - if at all it can be ever completed. So great are the ramifications likely to be from what must surely be one of the most unimaginably horrific tragedies to ever hit Australian sport. It is a process that began within 24 hours of the incident when organizers of the event

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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Local and international cyclists created a memorial to Gillett at the site of this week's tragedy.

Local and international cyclists created a memorial to Gillett at the site of this week’s tragedy.

Photo: AFP PHOTO DDP/JENS-ULRICH KOCH GERMANY OUT

Australian cycling is crippled in pain by the death of national road team member Amy Gillett and the injuries of her five teammates from an out of control car plowing into them while training in Germany on Monday.

The healing process for the sport and the many individuals affected by what happened has only just begun – if at all it can be ever completed.

So great are the ramifications likely to be from what must surely be one of the most unimaginably horrific tragedies to ever hit Australian sport.

It is a process that began within 24 hours of the incident when organizers of the event Gillett and the Australian team were to have competed in until the tragedy struck – the Thuringen Rundfahrt (Tour of Thuringen) – arranged a memorial service for the former Olympic rower.

The service was held on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Marktplatz and in the town of Zeulenroda – 80km south of Leipzig – that was to have been the start-finish for Wednesday’s first stage of the tour. Organizers opted to cancel the stage instead.

But the sad fact is that for anyone touched by the tragedy, it will be a long time before there will be an semblance of calm in their emotion.

The sport was reminded of that during this year’s Tour de France – and, ironically, on the day this tragedy occurred, with July 18 marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Italian 1992 Olympic road champion Fabio Casartelli from head injuries sustained from a crash in the Pyrenees.

As with Casartelli, Gillett cannot be brought back. But what of herteammates Louise Yaxley, Alexis Rhodes, Kate Nichols, Katie Brown and Lorian Graham who must recover physically and psychologically?

Will they ride again? Will they want to? What will happen of their lives?

What of their coach Warren McDonald, one of the most popular, humble and respected coaches in Australia, who was driving the team car that had been following them in their doomed training ride?

What horror he must have felt after coming over the crest of a hill they had ridden over before, and confronted with a scene of absolute carnage?

For anyone involved there will be fear, doubt and a reluctance to resume involvement in a sport that has been their lives.

Simmering too will be anger over how such a tragedy occurred. Who should pay for it? And in what way?

There will also be resurrected calls that have seemingly landed on deaf ears for society and governments to take stock and realize how dangerous cars are and that cyclists are deserve safety on the roads.

Such a loss should not all be in vain. As Australian Tour de France rider Cadel Evans said this week: “I don’t know how many people have to get killed before society realize how dangerous motor vehicles are.”

For Australian cycling, the perceived problem child of sport here, its history of doping, selection and code of conduct controversies pales into insignificance against the heart wrenching issue it must now deal with.

What will be the future of its successful women’s road program –respected around the world as one of the best – now that it has been suspended?

How will it be resurrected and when? Who will be the driving players behind it? All these plus some are questions needing answers.

Although, right now, the sport’s biggest challenge is not about results, performance and winning all the medals.

It’s about people and helping them to deal with the worst pain of all – the loss and injury of loved ones.


Long-time VeloNews contributor Rupert Guinness is a staff writer at Australia’s Daily Telegraph.