Sunday's stage of the Tour de France will surely stir memories for Lance Armstrong, who will be looking back to a tragedy 10 years earlier as he pedals closer to the end of his career.
One of six climbs in the race from Lézat-sur-Lèze to Saint-Lary Soulan is the Col de Portet d'Aspet. The peloton will pass the site where — nearly 10 years ago to the day — Italian Fabio Casartelli, right, a member of Armstrong's Motorola team, went down in a collision, slid into a concrete barrier, and suffered fatal head trauma.
Armstrong expects to have strong feelings when he passes that point, he said at a recent press conference.
“It's going to mean a lot because it's my last year. It shows you how time flies because it feels almost like yesterday when we descended it and I saw him there.
“It's always a tough time to pass that point.”
In his book with Sally Jenkins, “It's Not About the Bike”, Armstrong remembers the accident and recounts the peloton's reaction to the loss of not only a promising racer, but a young husband and father. The following day, the peloton cycled en masse and allowed the Motorola team to finish in front.
Armstrong, however, wasn't done honoring Casartelli. The Tour was to finish a stage in Limoges two days later, and Armstrong knew that winning there was one of Casartelli's goals. Late in the bicycle race he surged to the front and pulled a solo breakaway, finishing a minute ahead of the pursuers.
“I felt an emotion at the finish line that I've never experienced again,” he wrote in his book. Crossing the line, he looked up, raised both arms, and pointed to the heavens in tribute to Fabio. It's an image etched in the memories of many Tour de France fans.
It was one of the young Texan's few stage wins in those years before he'd been diagnosed with cancer.
Ten years later, the peloton will summit the mountain again, this time passing the white marble memorial (left) to 1992 Olympic gold medalist Casartelli, another racer whose life held much promise.
Although the riders may pay a short tribute as they pass the memorial on Sunday, Armstrong and other Tour participants will helicopter back to the memorial to pay their respects on Monday, a rest day, Cycling News reported. That will be followed by a memorial service for friends and family in Pau.