By Susan Westemeyer and Shane Stokes
South African cycling is in shock following the news that Team Barloworld's Ryan Cox died early Wednesday morning in Kempton Park hospital in Johannesburg. The 28 year-old rider had undergone an operation in France on July 4 to treat a blood flow problem but his condition deteriorated on Monday and he was taken from his home to hospital in a serious condition. His heart reportedly stopped beating due to a ruptured artery in his leg and although he received several transfusions to try to save his life, his condition continued to worsen. Doctors fought to save him but were ultimately unable to do so. He passed away at 5:15 am Wednesday morning.
The team had announced Monday that Cox had undergone emergency surgery to repair a bleeding artery.
His team-mate Robbie Hunter, who won a stage in the Tour de France, arrived home in South Africa Wednesday morning, and said that he was "devastated" to hear the news.
Cox was diagnosed in April with a vascular problem in his left leg, having had long-running symptoms of a loss of power during races and hard training. The condition is caused by a kinking of the artery and is known to occur amongst top-level cyclists. CSC rider Stuart O'Grady is one who was successfully treated in the past, returning to top fitness, and indeed it has been reported that the same French doctor carried out the procedure on Cox on July 4. It requires a period of rest in order to allow the area to heal fully.
Writing on his website www.ryancox.co.za after the operation, Cox said "The doctor is very, very happy with how the opp [operation] went and the artery is very straight now on the new x-rays. I'm feeling fine and able to walk slowly. A lot of swelling still but that's all normal."
Later, he wrote, "It has only been 12 days since I went under the knife to solve my prob's. Since then I have returned home and recovering well. The swelling has really gone down nicely now and am able to move around a bit quicker than last week. I'm taking things nice and slowly and being home around my family and friends is exactly what I need."
Cox was born and lived in Kempton Park, South Africa. He has long been recognised as one of the country's most talented riders and turned professional with the Amore e Vita – Beretta team in 2000. He spent two years with Team Cologne and then joined Barloworld in 2003, sharing the team's long term goal of riding the Tour de France. Although Barloworld achieved that target this year, having an excellent campaign thanks to stage wins by his compatriot Robert Hunter and the Colombian Mauricio Soler and also taking the KOM classification, Cox sadly missed out on the chance to be part of the team due to his injury.
He was a strong climber and time trialist and took several important results in the past. In 2003 he won a stage of the Circuit des Mines in France and then the following season won the Tour of Qinghai Lake, the South African road race title, a stage in the Giro del Capo and finished second in the Tour de Langkawi. 2005 saw him go one step higher in winning the Malaysian race, confirming his strong all-round ability. It was an excellent season for him; he also took the Genting Highlands stage there, defended his South African road championship title, won a stage at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, finished second in the Giro del Capo and second in both the UCI Africa and Asia Tours.
His hopes of building on that season with strong performances in European races was hampered when the blood flow problem began to affect his form. 2006 and 2007 were quieter years as a result, although he finished third overall in the 2006 Giro del Capo and fifth this season. He was hoping to return to full fitness and deliver on his potential on the big stage but sadly he will not now get to show his full potential.
We at Cyclingnews interviewed him several times (read: South Africa's next Tour rider? or Where I want to be) in the past and found him to be a very friendly, approachable rider. We would like to extent our full sympathies to Ryan's fiancee, family, friends and team-mates at this difficult time.
Messages of condolence can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.