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

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.