“This victory is dedicated to [Scarponi] and his family. He was a great friend of mine,” Valverde said as tears welled in his eyes at the finish line, adding he would donate the 20,000-euro prize to Scarponi’s family. “When I heard the news of his death, I was left cold. I felt terrible, not just me, but everyone in the cycling community.”
Sunday’s Liège started under a cloud of sadness as Astana lined up at the front of the peloton that paid tribute to Scarponi with a minute of silence. Scarponi’s death touched everyone in the peloton, but the riders agreed, including his Astana teammates, that the best way to honor Scarponi would be to race Sunday. Enrico Gasparotto, a former Astana teammate who also lost Antoine Demoitié last year in a fatal racing crash, was especially moved.
More details of the Saturday morning crash emerged in Italy. Scarponi had wrapped up racing the Tour of the Alps on Friday, where he won a stage and finished fourth overall, and after showering, he drove directly home with an Astana team helper, arriving home late Friday night to post a photo of himself playing with his twin sons on social media.
A routine early morning training ride quickly turned fatal. According to media reports, a Fiat Iveco, a type of industrial van, pulled directly in front of the oncoming Scarponi as a 57-year-old man turned into a Y-intersection at a crossroads. Scarponi, who had the right-of-way on the slightly downhill road, was mortally injured from what witnesses described as a brutal impact, striking the front right bumper and smashing the windshield. Medics quickly arrived on the scene, but efforts to revive him failed as a helicopter evacuated him to a local hospital. Police are considering pressing charges against the driver, who said he did not see the oncoming Scarponi, according to media reports.
Scarponi’s tragic death has also revived calls for new legislation in Italy to improve bicycle safety and driver awareness on Italy’s busy secondary highways.
In Italy, family and friends will gather Tuesday to say farewell to Scarponi in a sports pavilion in a public homage in his hometown of Filottrano. Fans and fellow cyclists will gather to remember the career and life of Scarponi.
Former teammate Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won the Tour of Croatia on Sunday, and also dedicated the victory to Scarponi, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport, “He was like a brother to me. I was racing with a heavy heart, but I wanted to win for Michele. I cannot stop thinking of his smile.”
In a final moving photograph posted on social media, the red-and-blue macaw named Frankje that was often featured in online videos with Scarponi was seen sitting on a signpost at the crossroads where Scarponi died. Flowers and memorials marked the spot, with Frankje stoically waiting in vigil for his friend who will never come back.