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Cyclist Gino Mäder, 26, dies after a high-speed crash in the Swiss Alps

Team Bahrain cyclist Gino Mäder of Switzerland died after suffering a terrible crash in the Tour de Suisse. He's seen here at the 2021 Giro d'Italia road race, wearing the blue jersey signifying the best climber.
Dario Belingheri
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AFP via Getty Images
Team Bahrain cyclist Gino Mäder of Switzerland died after suffering a terrible crash in the Tour de Suisse. He's seen here at the 2021 Giro d'Italia road race, wearing the blue jersey signifying the best climber.

Swiss cyclist Gino Mäder died Friday, one day after suffering a terrible crash during a mountain descent in stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse. Both Mäder and another racer, Magnus Sheffield of the U.S., were taken to the hospital after they were hurled into a ravine in the Swiss Alps.

Mäder, 26, crashed during the "queen stage" of the race — the label given to a multistage road race's most challenging and grueling days, which usually involve multiple ascents and test even the strongest riders.

After reaching the Albula Pass at a height just under 7,600 feet, Mäder and other riders faced a roughly 10-kilometer descent, racing down to the stage's finish line. In that segment, a motorcycle camera unit following the race leader clocked speeds of around 100 kph (62 mph).

It's not known precisely what led to the crash; TV broadcasts of the race didn't seem to catch the moment that sent the two riders off the road. "The circumstances of the accident are being clarified," race organizers said on Thursday.

After Mäder's death, the Graubünden cantonal police said on Friday that it is investigating the crash, along with the public prosecutor's office. The police issued a call for witnesses to come forward, particularly if they have video evidence.

The crash came in a high-speed portion of the course

During the descent, the two riders "crashed at very high speed," race organizers said. Another rider, Roland Thalmann, described the scene.

"After a long curve, two bikes were lying on the side of the road, which didn't look nice," Thalmann said, according to Cycling News. "When I looked back, I saw that two riders were quite far down."

"The race doctor was on the scene of the accident within two minutes," organizers said. Dr. Roland Kretsch found Sheffield, 21, responsive, with a concussion and bruises. Mäder was in far worse condition in a creek, as he "lay motionless in the water," according to organizers.

The medical team was able to resuscitate Mäder, and he was airlifted to a hospital. Kretsch later told SRF that the cyclists were found far below the roadway, and that Mäder had injuries to his head area.

Mäder's death stuns the cycling world

"Our entire team is devastated by this tragic accident, and our thoughts and prayers are with Gino's family and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time," Mäder's cycling squad, Team Bahrain Victorious, said as it announced his death.

"Today and every day, we ride for you, Gino," the team said.

An aerial photo from June 16, 2023, shows the curve where Swiss rider Gino Mäder crashed during a high-speed descent in the Tour de Suisse.
Arnd Wiegmann / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
An aerial photo from June 16, 2023, shows the curve where Swiss rider Gino Mäder crashed during a high-speed descent in the Tour de Suisse.

After the tragic news emerged, cyclists rode an extremely shortened sixth stage of the Tour de Swiss as a memorial to Mäder, with organizers saying the peloton, or main pack of cyclists, would ride only the final 20 kilometers of the planned course under "neutralized" conditions, meaning competition is suspended.

At Friday's finish line, a large crowd turned out to applaud Mäder's six teammates as they crossed the finish line together.

The new plan followed another last-minute change, after an avalanche blocked Friday's planned route in the mountains.

In 2021, Mäder won the best young cyclist's white jersey at La Vuelta, Spain's 21-stage race. He took fifth place in that race — the same spot he earned earlier this year, in the eight-day Paris-Nice race.

The Tour de Suisse isn't one of road cycling's three "Grand Tour" races, but with eight stages and plenty of high mountains, it's widely seen as a key tune-up for the Tour de France in July.

Race course layout is put under scrutiny

After Thursday's crash, Belgian rider Remco Evenepoel, the reigning world champion, criticized the race course's layout, as he sent his hopes for recovery to riders who crashed.

"While a summit finish would have been perfectly possible, it wasn't a good decision to let us finish down this dangerous descent," Evenepoel said. "As riders, we should also think about the risks we take going down a mountain."

Evenepoel posted that message on Thursday, before news of Mäder's death emerged.

In many stage races with famously imposing mountains, organizers place the finish line at the very top of the mountain, or just beyond it.

Thursday's stage included three mountain passes, with the first (Furka) and last (Albula) rated as "Hors Catégorie" — a designation reserved for ultra-steep climbs that are beyond cycling's normal 5-level categorization for mountains.

"We will see the best climbers in action again, but the last kilometers will also require a large dose of courage and honed descent skills," the race's official guide stated. It promised that the closing kilometers, descending from the Albula Pass to the mountain village of La Punt, "will be something to see."

Mäder died exactly 75 years after the only other death in the Tour de Suisse, which came when Richard Depoorter crashed in a dim tunnel and was run over by an escort vehicle in 1948, according to Swiss broadcaster RSF.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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