ITALY'S Olympic road race champion Fabio Casartelli died today during

the toughest mountain stage in the Pyrenees of the Tour de France.

Casartelli fell on a bend in a multiple crash as riders were going

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downhill after the first of the day's six climbs. He was taken

unconscious by helicopter to Tarbes with severe head injuries and died

30 minutes after reaching hospital.

The 24-year-old Italian, who won the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona

in 1992, appeared to hit a concrete bollard on a bend before falling

heavily with blood pouring from head wounds.

He brought a number of other riders down, including Frenchman Dante

Rezze, who fell into a ravine and broke a thigh bone, and German Dirk

Baldinger, who suffered a fractured hip bone.

Casartelli, who was married last year and who recently became a

father, was only the third rider to die in the Tour de France's 92-year

history and the first since Britain's Tommy Simpson in 1967.

Tonight the Motorola team said its riders would continue in the race

in Casartelli's memory. A minute's silence will be observed before the

start of tomorrow's 16th stage in Tarbes.--Reuter.