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Cycling

Gino Mäder Had Too Much More To Give

1:31 PM EDT on June 16, 2023

VILLARS-SUR-OLLON, SWITZERLAND - MAY 01: Gino Mader of Switzerland and Team Bahrain Victorious celebrates the second place on the podium after the 75th Tour De Romandie 2022 - Stage 5 on May 1, 2022 in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland. (Photo by RvS.Media/Basile Barbey/Getty Images,)
Basile Barbey/Getty Images

The strongest memory I have of Gino Mäder was a small act of kindness he performed for a rival at a low moment. At the end of the final competitive stage of the final Grand Tour of the 2021 season, Ryan Gibbons made a valiant solo effort to take the stage, seemingly seizing his final opportunity of the season to earn a win, only to blow up on the climb and fall brutally short. Gibbons hung his head in sadness as he crossed the line in eighth, knowing his season was, practically speaking, over. Mäder crossed the line right behind Gibbons, putting his arm around him in consolation. The 2021 Vuelta a España was Mäder's coming-out party, as he finished fifth and won the best young rider jersey, though I remember that race less for Mäder's (impressive) riding and more for his spirit and silly environmental fundraising quest. There was a lightness in him that was refreshing in such a difficult sport.

Mäder died on Friday at the age of 26 after a horrible crash during Thursday's Tour de Suisse. Mäder and American rider Magnus Sheffield went down while descending the Albulapass at around 60 miles per hour, being thrown from the road down into a ravine; the exact circumstances of the crash are not clear, and it was not caught on video, though one rider who was descending behind the pair said he saw two bikes lying on the side of the road. Sheffield sustained a concussion and was found by rescue personnel next to Mäder, who was "motionless in the water." Both riders were airlifted to the hospital, though Sheffield was conscious while Mäder had to be resuscitated. He died of his injuries a day later.

Several riders competing in the Tour de Suisse were critical of the stage finish. Riders had to claw and scrap for seconds on the ascent, only to then spend the next 10 kilometers sprinting downhill to protect any advantages they engineered. A downhill finish like this requires riders to push their limits on the most dangerous of parcours. "While a summit finish would have been perfectly possible, it wasn’t a good decision to let us finish down this dangerous descent," tweeted world champion Remco Evenepoel. "Perhaps this descent at the end wasn't the best idea," said race leader Mattias Skjelmose.

Organizers canceled the Friday stage, though Mäder's teammates paid tribute to him with a short processional ride.

The Tour de Suisse was Mäder's home race, as he grew up in the mountains not far from where he crashed. Those mountains defined his life, forming not only the backdrop for his professional career but also the motivation to fight for a better world. Mäder began donating a fixed amount of money to environmental causes for every rider he finished ahead of at his breakout Vuelta, and he kept the effort going throughout the 2022 season, and he was such a good rider that he figured to finish ahead of an increasing number of riders as his career progressed. He won a stage at the 2021 Giro d'Italia, and was racking up several impressive results at bigger and bigger stage races, like a pair of top-tens at Paris-Nice and a second place at the 2022 Tour of Romandie. His Tour de France debut was clearly coming soon, if not this year, then in 2024. Mäder rode with his heart on his sleeve, and he was only getting started.

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