I have a list in my head. For me personally the list starts on the sun-drenched mountainside in France back in July 1995. For one young man a life ended senselessly there. There are names on the list from before that, I know, and I don’t even need to name the individual points anymore. It’s just ‘the list’.
And the list grows.
Year for year, life for life, tear for tear. Heartbreak for heartbreak.
Occasionally a name hits harder than others. Personal or circumstantial reasons that makes it seem closer.
But I know that even the names that don’t will hit others just as hard.
Every name has a story, every name feels like one too many; I hope every name was loved by the ones they leave behind.
I think of it when medical science, decisive actions by others, or sheer luck denies the list its latest prospect. Tragically no such interventions were present on Thursday at the Tour of Suisse. The list claims another name.
The ambivalent feeling of parasocial grief is coursing through me as I write this… (do we call it ‘Grief by association’? Or 2nd hand grief? Vocabulary is hard when words feel incapable of capturing the weight of reality).
Why am I so affected? Do I even have the right to be? And if yes, how do I express it in a way that makes sense? What social templates are acceptable for situations that, if the world was fair, shouldn’t even happen? I honestly still don’t know. I suspect no one really does.
I do have a process though. I didn’t realise I have it until it happened. Again.
The fact that it feels almost like a ritual to me, says more about the dangers of the sport I love than I am willing to acknowledge most days.
I think of Gino’s parents. Then I call my own.
I pretend I’m okay, ask if they’ve seen the news. Most times they have.
Cycling is the kind of sport that swallows families whole, even after the racing kids are neither kids nor racing anymore. We are still a cycling family.
I pretend I’m okay until I can’t. The number of tears differs but the shared emotional weight of another young life lost to the sport stays consistent.
We talk about the parents. The people who loved him. How tragic and senseless it all feels. The riders who might have seen it. Then my mum (it’s almost always my mum) says it.
'I’m… just so happy you’re still here.'
I can hear the sorrow in her voice even if it’s more than 24 years ago now.
I have mostly accepted that I will never fully comprehend the seriousness of my own teen-racing accident. Despite the scar tissue on my thigh and the tangible proof in the form of a top-range Giro helmet with the protection layer spilt into 13 pieces being stacked away in the attic of my parents’ house. I suspect it’s always more real for people around you, the ones who see the full scope of what could have happened.
Even though I am alive, I watch my parents being reminded of the what the worst possible outcome of such accidents is, again.
I don’t pretend this is equivalent in any way to what happened Thursday. How can I?
My personal microcosm feels insignificant to what the people who loved Gino Mäder must be going through. My story is not important here.
But it’s a stark reminder of the fear and agony so many parents with racing kids (no matter their age or level of racing) have to live with. How there’s nothing anyone can do but hope they return safely each time.
It’s a brutal sport in that way.
Every time a name is added to the list, I see the impact my own accident has left on my parents.
My scar tissue is fading, but their reactions remind me that not all scars are of the visible kind.
I might not remember the fear, the horror, the 'what ifs', but they do. In that light, I guess the ritualistic call also serves as a way of saying 'I’m still here. I love you.'
I was lucky. Thankfully many are.
But it feels so deeply, horribly unfair when someone isn’t.
My heart aches for them and for every parent, sibling, friend, partner, and colleague of every rider, professional or not, who doesn’t make it home safe. For every person who loves a rider, loving their passion and supporting them, but also fearing for days like Thursday. For everyone who loved and lost already.
For Gino’s loved ones in particular this weekend.
I put down the phone. That’s the end of the ritual.
I cry some more and look out the window.
It’s raining for the first day in over a month. It feels weirdly symbolic. Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone, or a magic reminder of the causes Gino championed? Either way; the dried-up wildflowers in my backyard are suddenly shining in bright yellow again. Life finds a way.
My phone pings. One of my best friends just gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter.
They are both safe and healthy. The sight of them makes me smile, despite the gravity of today.
Life is beautiful and resilient but so damn fragile and full of random risks and tragedy at the same time.
On my screen the riders are riding slowly, solemnly. I see them wrap their arms around each other. Teammates, countrymen, friends, colleagues, distinctions like that doesn’t matter on days like today.
What matters is being there for those who need it. The ones who have to go on without someone they loved.
Seeing how the empathy and compassion rides alongside the shared grief makes me tear up again.
No one in the peloton has to go through this alone. It’s a shallow comfort to me, but a comfort, nonetheless.
I sincerely hope Gino’s loved ones have people who will be there for them in this. Not just now while the grief is raw and open, but in the years and years to come. That they don’t have to carry it alone. That people will hold them, listen, and let them remember Gino for all the things he was in life, not just for how he died.
Life does indeed go on. As does the race, no matter how hollow it may seem on days like today.
But on it goes. And on we go.
I text my parents: 'Just want to say I love you both…'
In the end all we have is each other.