Tuesday 6 December 2022

Freewheeling - The senseless killing of a cycling champion: Davide Rebellin

Italian ex-professional cycle racer Davide Rebellin was knocked down and killed by a heavy goods vehicle while on a bike ride last Wednesday morning (30th November). 

The accident occurred on a roundabout on a road he had cycled on literally millions of times, for it was just four miles from his home in Lonigo, near Vicenza. 51-year old Davide was born and bred in this area, and had ridden around these roads since the time his father Gedeon, who owned the local grocers shop and was cycling fanatic, got him and his brothers into cycling when he was 10 years old.

Carlo, Stefano and Simone liked cycling, but it was Davide who had a real gift for spinning the pedals fast, winning world junior titles and national races. At the age of 20 he got the call-up to represent  his country at the Barcelona Olympics, where he was instrumental in securing a gold medal for team-mate Fabio Casartelli (who died three years later in a horrific crash during the Tour de France).

A young Davide (right) with his brothers
[Credit: Rebellin family] 
Davide turned professional immediately after the 1992 Olympic Games and raced for different teams throughout his 30-year career including Gerolsteiner, Polti and Francais des Jeux. A specialist of the Spring Classics, races that take place in March and April on testing, undulating  sometimes cobbled  windswept roads in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Davide made his mark in 2004 by becoming the first rider to win Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche-Wallone, and Liège-Bastogne-Liege - the Ardennes Classics Week series. 

Over his 30-year career, he took 62 victories, including a victoria at the Giro d'Italia and a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. The medal was revoked following a positive drug test, but he was then absolved of the charges following a 7-year legal battle.

Davide finally ended his professional cycling career on October 16th this year, where he took part in a race in Verona, in his home region. 

The quiet-mannered man who lived for cycling, was looking forward to spending more time with his friends and family between Monaco and Veneto, in this next phase of his life. 

But barely six weeks into this new era, on a morning in which Carlo was originally going to join him on a training ride (but was unable to go when something coming up at work) Davide cycled out, never to be seen alive again.

An articulated freight truck registered to Rieke Transport, a family company based in Recke, in the Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, sped round a roundabout near the Montebello interchange between the Venice-Verona A4 motorway and the regional Stradale 11 road near Vicentino. In the process Davide was hit in the blindspot of the vehicle, trapped and dragged for around 25 metres along the road. Davide died instantly. 

These tragic events bear echoes of another shock to the world of cycling, in 2017 when Michele Scarponi, a racer, preparing to contest the win at the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) was killed in a road traffic accident near his home. 

Where Scarponi was hit by a transit van whose driver stopped at the scene and was charged (though later died of cancer) the Rebellin incident had a shocking twist. 

The driver of the articulated lorry, a 62-year old Wolfgang Riecke, fled the scene. The man stopped, briefly looked at the scene of the accident, then jumped back in the cabin and fled back to Germany. Unsurprisingly, the social media pages for the freight company has been flooded with angry comments and insults.

Aftermath of the fatal accident [Credit: ANSA]

Although Italian police are due to charge the German national with road traffic homicide, at present they can't arrest him because this charge is not classed as a crime in Germany, and so no extradition can take place. 

The sight of Davide's road bike all crumpled up and in pieces, gives chilling thoughts about what happened to the cyclist in those final fatal moments. Coupling that with the notion that the perpetrator could practically get away with murder is sickening. Note that the driver has antecedents, having pleaded guilty in 2001 of leaving the scene of a road traffic accident he caused while driving, and having his driving licence temporarily revoked in 2014 for drunk driving. I hope that justice is done for the Rebellin family.

In the mean-time an autopsy is due to take place on 13th December, and the funeral will take place soon after that, in the cathedral of Davide's home town in Lonigo. 

May Davide rest in peace.   

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