Italian coach Aldo Sassi, who works with world champion Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers and Charly Wegelius has revealed that he is fighting a life-threatening brain tumor. Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport on the day of his 51st birthday, Sassi revealed he has already undergone brain surgery and chemotherapy.
"I've got to roll up my sleeves and fight against an aggressive enemy," he bravely told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I've been operated on for a brain tumor. I've had the first cycle of chemotherapy and tomorrow I'm starting radiotherapy. It's something I've got to put up with, with the conviction that I can beat it. There's no such thing as an incurable disease. I'm a scientist and I'm full of hope. I can do it."
Sassi was the youngest member of the team of sports doctors that worked with Francesco Moser when he broke the hour record in 1983. He was at the time general manager of the Mapei team and created the Mapei coaching and testing centre in Castellanza, near Varese. Sassi has always taken a clear stance against doping and played a key role in fighting the problem. He only agreed to coach Ivan Basso on his return from a doping ban when he allowed Sassi to test his blood haemaglobin volume, one of the best way to detect blood doping.
Sassi revealed that he suffered with a headache for four days before being diagnosed with a high-grade Glioma brain tumor.
"I fought back well and immediately realised I wasn't alone. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a team of champions, starting with Professor Solero (the doctor treating him). I've had the best from life: a great family, the job I'd dreamed about and many, many friends."
"I've been working with statistics for more than 25 years but at the moment I am not interested. Because the life expectancy with a cancer like mine isn't more than 15 months. I just hope to be the one who escapes from the statistics. I think I can do it."
"When I wake up in the morning and look at the sun, I see a light I hadn't seen before. My wife Marina is amazing and three children Valentina, Chiara and Marco are as strong as oaks. Then I've got my wider family: Giorgio and Adriana Squinzi and my riders. Their messages fill my world on a daily basis. I've also got my faith and it's really helpful."
Still working with his riders
Sassi is still working with his riders, especially Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso, as they prepare for the Giro d'Italia.
"The only problem is that I can't do any sport or drink wine. And strangely I've become tone deaf. I used to love playing the guitar…" he said.
"I even made the nurse wait before I went into surgery because I was finishing off Basso's training programme. Now both he and Evans are getting ready for the Giro d'Italia. Who will win the Giro? Hopefully either Evans or Basso. They're like two sons for me and I can't chose between them. Cadel is the strongest athlete I've ever coached. Ivan is the one with more determination."
"Cycling has improved a lot. Things have really cleaned up. If either Ivan or Cadel win the Giro, we'll have the proof that you can win without doping. I totally trust them and I'm certain they wouldn't do anything to hurt me…."
Sassi insisted he fight back and refuses to let his health problems stop him making plans for the future.
"When life throws you a surprise, you've got to fight back. That's what I'm doing. I'm going to survive. I've plans to develop the Castellanza (Mapei) centre, I want to ride up the Stelvio and I've booked a place for the world championships in Melbourne. My tumor is going to have think again."
Both Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans described their relationship with Sassi, revealing how important he is to both of them in public messages of support in Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Aldo is fighting against something that is far more important than my Giro d'Italia, yet he still dedicates a part of his day to me. I'm very proud of that," Basso told Gazzetta. "He's got real character and determination. He's an example and a friend, more than a friend."
Evans said: "I first met Aldo in 2002. I knew little or nothing about cycling but I wanted to know more. I was racing mountain bikes and on the road. When I cracked at the Giro d'Italia it convinced me I should prepare better. Since then the Mapei Centre has been my point of reference, my second family."