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The Tour de France Can Kill

By We Love Cycling

The most recent case of a cyclist dying at the Tour de France was on July 18, 1995, during the 15th stage of the Tour when Olympic gold medalist Fabio Casartelli of Italy crashed while descending the Col de Portet d’Aspet mountain pass at 55 mph and hit his head on the concrete blocks lining the road.


(Fabio Casartelli’s memorial. Source: Wikipedia.org)

Obviously, one would assume he was wearing a helmet if travelling at such speeds, but Casartelli was not, so we’ll never know if a helmet might have saved him. Doctors and medical examiners have been debating the issue for quite some time.

During its history, 4 competitors have died during the Tour de France, but several spectators have also been fatally injured making professional cycling as dangerous for the fans as it is for the competitors. There are endless stories about over-zealous fans being seriously hurt while cheering on the riders, but today is not their day. This article is a tribute to the unfortunate men who lost their lives doing what they lived for.

On July 14, 1910, the Tour de France experienced its very first fatality. Adolphe Heliére drowned while swimming in Nice on a rest day. However, there seems to be some disagreement as to the cause. One version of the story says he simply drowned and if this were true you would have to believe exhaustion played a role. Another version of the story, perhaps embellished over time, says he died after being stung by a jellyfish. That hardly seems likely, but either way, he wouldn’t have been there, if not for the Tour de France.

In 1935, the Tour de France saw its second fatality and this time there could be no debate as to the cause. During the 8th stage, a mountainous one between Grenoble and Gap (a mountain village in the French Alps), Spanish cyclist Francisco Cepeda was making his descent down the mountain when he lost control of his bike and plunged off a ravine on the Col du Galibier. Sadly, he died on the way to the hospital.


(Tom Simpson’s memorial. Simpson died during the 1967 Tour. Source: Wikipedia.org)

In 1967, British cyclist Tom Simpson made everyone realize just how problematic doping was in the sport of cycling when he died while climbing Mont Venteaux during the 13th stage of the Tour. An autopsy showed amphetamines and alcohol in his system and it was concluded that these drugs, combined with searing heat, had caused a heart attack. He was just 29 years old.

Lest we forget!