Stars pay tribute as well-liked coach Aldo Sassi dies

Italian encouraged cycling without doping

Australian Michael Rogers and Italy's Ivan Basso were among a number of top cyclists to pay tribute to Aldo Sassi after the popular Italian coach died in the early hours of Monday.

Known for his staunch anti-doping stance, Sassi's training philosophy brought much success to some of the world's top riders.

The Italian, who founded and presided over the Mapei Research Centre for Sport, announced in April he was suffering from a life-threatening brain tumour prompting brain surgery and chemotherapy.

Reports said he died in Como, Italy on Monday, aged 51.

Rogers, a stage race specialist who won three world time trials crowns earlier in his career, was one of the first to post a tribute on his Twitter microblogging site.

"RIP Aldo. Thank you for everything you gave and taught me!" said Rogers.

Sassi was notably the coach of Cadel Evans, another Australian, who finished twice runner-up in the Tour de France under his guidance.

Sassi also took Basso under his wing last year when the contrite Italian, promising to work hard to get back to his previous best, returned from a lengthy ban for doping offences.

Basso went on to win the Giro d'Italia earlier this year and is expected to be one of a handful of yellow jersey contenders at the Tour de France in 2011.

Basso simply tweeted: "Goodbye, Aldo. Your friendship and love will always be in my heart."

In his early days Sassi was part of the support team for Francesco Moser's attempts on the world hour record in 1985.

He was then responsible for coaching leading Mapei team riders such as Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini, Michele Bartoli and Paolo Bettini, before founding his research centre in 2002.

Most recently Sassi tested and agreed to coach disgraced cyclist Riccardo Riccò, hitting back at critics of the Italian who served a 20-month ban for doping at the 2008 Tour de France by saying he could "guarantee" his riders were clean.

Sassi most recently put up a stout defence of the sport after claims by Italian anti-doping investigator Ettore Torri that doping was widespread in the peloton.

"Torri believes the peloton isn't (clean) but I don't agree," he said. "That's why I'm still involved in the sport. You can ride and win a Giro (d'Italia) without having to dope."

© AFP 2010

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