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The Astana team, Italian cycling and the sport in general is grieving after the death of professional rider Michele Scarponi while training.
The 37 year old was training in his home town and was struck by a van at an intersection.
He was on a recovery ride following his strong performance in the Tour of the Alps, where he won the opening stage and finished fourth overall.
He had been due to lead the Astana team in the upcoming Giro d’Italia, taking on the number one mantle after Fabio Aru was injured in training.
The Astana team is reeling with the news of his passing.
“This is a tragedy too big to be written,” it said in a statement.
“Our athlete Michele Scarponi died this morning while he was training on his bike close to his home in Filottrano. Michele has been hit by a van on a crossroad.
“Michele ended 4th in the Tour of Alps yesterday afternoon in Trento. Then he went home in Filottrano (Ancona) by car with his masseur and was home in the evening with his family.
“This morning Michele went out on his bike for an early morning training and there the tragedy happened.”
Scarponi has a wife and two children. While his character wasn’t particularly well known to English-speaking fans due to the language barrier, he amassed a following thanks to his rides with a parrot, Frankie. The bird, which belongs to a neighbour, would fly alongside him while he was training and often land on his shoulders.
His interactions with the bird revealed a warm person.
…ancora in compagnia di Frankje???????? pic.twitter.com/1tU7fRtx9a
— Michele Scarponi (@MicheleScarponi) January 27, 2016
On the bike, he was one of Italy’s best stage race riders. Suspended due to his involvement in Operacion Puerto, he returned and won the 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico plus two stages in the Giro d’Italia.
Fourth overall in the 2010 race, he ended up second in 2011 but inherited the race title when Alberto Contador was himself suspended after a Clenbuterol positive. Scarponi was also fourth in 2012 and 2013 and, thanks to his good form in the Tour of the Alps, was looking forward to seeing how he would fare this time around.
Sadly that now won’t happen. Instead the sport is mourning his passing.
Those who will remember him include Vincenzo Nibali, a rider he supported in major victories.
His team will also have fond memories of him.
“We left a great champion and a special guy, always smiling in every situation,” said Astana. “He was a real milestone and a landmark for everyone in the Astana Pro Team.
“The Astana Pro Team clings to the Michele family in this incredibly painful moment of sorrow and mourning.”
Riders, teams and others from the sport have posted tributes to him on social media.
CyclingTips expresses condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.