By Andrew Hood
More news trickled out in the Spanish press following the tragic death of Italian veteran Alessio Galletti, felled by a heart attack Wednesday in the Subida a Naranco race in northern Spain.
A five-hour autopsy Thursday confirmed Galletti died of cardiac arrest some 15km from the finish line after complaining of chest pain and breathing difficulties. It will be another three months, however, before more extensive analysis is completed on the rider’s vital organs.
Galletti’s mother and wife traveled to Oviedo on Thursday to retrieve his body; they will return to Italy sometime this weekend. His body will be routed through Rome rather than his native Pisa because bureaucratic hassles won’t allow cadavers to be received in Pisa on the weekend.
Race organizers have come under fire for an apparent delay in getting an ambulance to the scene. Organizers said the race met all UCI requirements and that there were two doctors, three ambulances and seven other medical personnel traveling in the race caravan. But the final ambulance was traveling with the gruppetto, several minutes behind Galletti’s group, which was riding between the leading attackers and the rear of the peloton.
Officials said a first ambulance arrived at the scene within seven minutes of Galletti’s collapse, but riders at the scene say the ambulance lacked a qualified medical official and a defibrillator.
“I tried to help him, I did what I could, but there was a lot of confusion,” said Juan Manuel Rivas, a rider on the Spanish national team who tried to revive Galletti.
“We found Galletti fallen on the ground without breathing. First, someone moved his tongue and later we checked for a pulse. We couldn’t find one in the wrist, but in the neck we did,” Rivas told AS. “He was still alive, but it was pure agony. I believed he would be dead very quickly.”
When the race ambulance arrived, Rivas said, there only a medical assistant who didn’t have the skills or the equipment to deal with the quickly unfolding emergency. A call was put in to the national ambulance service, which took an additional half hour to arrive.
Javier Líndez, another rider on the Spanish national team, and a motorcycle policeman patrolling the race, both tried to revive the fallen race with CPR.
“Wednesday was the worst day of my life,” Líndez told AS. “We didn’t know what to do, because it was just a few racers and a national guard. Then I decided to give (CPR) and look for someone to help me. The national guard gave him mouth-to-mouth while I applied the chest massage.”
Líndez called his girlfriend, who worked as an EMT, and she told him to keep providing CPR until another ambulance arrived with a defibrillator.
“It was too late. I believe he was already dead,” he said. “I will always wonder what would have happened had the ambulance arrived earlier.”
The ugly specter of doping also raised its head following the tragedy. Officials said analysis would be made on samples taken from Galletti to look for possible banned doping products that could have triggered the fatal heart attack.
Eurosport reported that Galletti “had a long history of brushes with the law” and that Galletti was issued a four-month racing ban in 2000.
Italian police later tapped his phone as part of a larger investigation into peddling of banned doping products, and he was left out of the 2004 Tour de France team for Domina Vacanze after his name was linked to the investigation.