As they waited to go into the team presentation for Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Saturday afternoon, riders paid tribute to Michele Scarponi, who died as the result of a crash with a vehicle during training earlier in the day. Widely appreciated for his charismatic personality and well-known for his long years as a pro - starting with Acqua e Sapone - back in 2002 - the random nature of such an accident and Scarponi's death had struck home hard.
"It's a huge blow," Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) told a small group of reporters as he waited his turn to be presented to the crowd. "Nobody deserves something like that to happen to them, but Michele was a very happy, upbeat sort of person, on and off the bike, it's a real pity."
"The truth is, I'm not in a great place now, and when I heard the news it really messed me up, it was very difficult to take in. You never know when something like this can happen. One day you're here, the next, it's over."
Echoing Valverde's words and visibly emotional, Scarponi's former teammate in Liberty Seguros and Astana Angel Vicioso confirmed to Cyclingnews that "words can't do justice to someone like Michele. He was a good person, generous, a real friend to his friends, kind, never angry, never annoyed.
"I think it's a really sad day, and I'm finding this very tough. He really was one of the people I most appreciated in the whole of the peloton. It's a catastrophe for cycling."
An idol and a friend
As Cannondale-Drapac director Juanma Garate - who raced against Scarponi for many years - told Cyclingnews that processing the loss will be especially hard for those riders at Liege who had been racing with Scarponi in Italy in the Tour of the Alps, such as the team's Davide Formolo and Davide Villella.
"Formolo told me this morning, 'I've got a signed photo of me with Michele from when I was a young rider, and he signed a team poster for me, too.' And I've just seen a photo of the first stage of Scarponi winning in the Alps and the rider right behind him is Formolo."
"For Davide, he was his idol when he was young, he was somebody he raced against, too, right up until yesterday afternoon."
Garate said it will be hard, as ever, for riders to re-focus on racing after such a shocking, sudden loss.
"It's already difficult. I heard about the news early on and when I told Rigo' [Rigoberto Uran] for example, he took it really hard. He's getting through it, fortunately, his wife is here to help him but it's been a big blow for him."
Another effect of such a sudden death of a racer, Garate said, is how it affects riders perspectives on their own professions and lives.
"It makes us all realise how much of a bubble we're all in living in, thinking that 'nothing like that could happen to us.' But we're all human, and it's hard to accept, but a thing like this makes us put our feet back on the ground, and stop focussing too much on trivial stuff, that - for example - if our race socks aren't quite the right fit."
"We were talking about it this morning in the team, that much of the time in our profession, or any profession maybe, you can lose your perspective on what really matters. This sort of thing puts you, suddenly, back towards looking at life in a very different way."
What that cannot take away, though, is the loss of a rider like Michele Scarponi.
"Michele was a very charismatic guy, the sort who would really boost everybody's mood," Garate added. "He had a lot of ups and downs in his career, but he was always upbeat, somebody we'll all miss in the peloton because he was somebody whose personality meant he stood out a lot. He always had the right words to say, no matter what the situation. It's a great loss."
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