Team Sky worker dies after contracting virus

Tragedy strikes the Tour of Spain

A masseur with Team Sky died on Friday, five days after he was taken to hospital with a virus that has also hit three riders in cycling's Tour of Spain, the British team said.

Txema Gonzalez, 42, died in hospital in the southern Spanish city of Seville, Team Sky officials said.

He had been treated since Sunday for a viral infection that has forced the withdrawal of three Team Sky riders -- Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha on Friday and South Africa's John Lee Augustyn and Britain's Ben Swift on Monday.

Team Sky early Friday had "ruled out" food poisoning when it announced that Flecha had been taken to hospital during the night.

"Txema contracted a bacterial infection, which entered the bloodstream and developed into sepsis,” said Team Sky's Head of Medical Dr Steve Peters via the Sky Team website. "The toxins from this had damaged the organs in his body and he went into septic shock and unfortunately succumbed to that. I should also clarify that this bacterial infection has nothing to do with the viral infection which many of the team have suffered with in Spain, causing stomach upset."

Flecha "was admitted during the night to a hospital and remained under observation until 3am (0100 GMT) due to the virus that Team Sky is suffering and which has already forced the withdrawal of John Lee Augustyn and Ben Swift," a spokesman for the team said in a statement.

But the Tour's two official medics, Juan Maria Irigoyen and Txomin Grande, later told reporters that Team Sky's doctor had reported that tests on Gonzalez revealed the presence of a pathogenic bacteria, or one which causes infectious diseases, present in meat, fish and milk products.

The announcement of the death of Gonzalez, just minutes before the conclusion of 7th stage of the Tour, sparked emotional reactions from some participants.

"It's a hard blow, we knew that he was in a critical condition but we didn't imagine it would come to this," the Tour of Spain's director general, Javier Guillen, told Spanish public television.

He said participants would observe a minute's silence before the start of Saturday's eighth stage.

The source of the virus was not immediately clear, but Team Sky has so far ruled out food poisoning.

© AFP 2010

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