ITALY'S Olympic road race champion Fabio Casartelli died today during the toughest mountain stage in the Pyrenees of the Tour de France.
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Casartelli fell on a bend in a multiple crash as riders were going 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.