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"I don't feel good, I can't breathe," were Alessio Galletti's last words as he stopped his bike on the Alto de Manzaneda climb 15km from the end of the Subida al Naranco race in northern Spain on Wednesday afternoon. The 37-year-old Naturino-Sapore di Mare rider was in a group of about 30 riders well behind the Naranco pace-setters when he suffered what is believed to have been a heart attack.
Although Galletti was rushed to hospital in nearby Oviedo, he was pronounced dead on arrival. An autopsy is due to be conducted on the Naturino rider in Oviedo today (Thursday). Galletti was married with a one-year old son. His wife, Consuelo, is reported to be pregnant with their second child.
Galletti's Naturino team have pulled out of the upcoming Tour of Asturias. Naturino directeur sportif Fabio Beccherini said: "We cannot think about racing at a time like this and so we will be going home."
Galletti's tearful team-mates were stunned by the tragic news. "Before the race we didn't notice anything unusual," said Sergio Marinangeli of Galletti, who was one of the team's most experienced riders as well as being one of its most colourful and motivating characters.
"I know that I have never filled the pages of the papers with my exploits," he told Spanish paper AS last year. "But I feel proud of the confidence my directeurs have placed in me." Over the past decade or so Galletti had worked for a variety of famous names, including Mario Cipollini, Pavel Tonkov and Gilberto Simoni.
Galletti was also involved in the so-called 'oil for drugs' doping case. He was one of eight riders questioned during last year's Giro following investigations by the Italian authorities into doctor Carlos Santuccione. His Domina Vacanze team subsequently dropped him from their line-up for the Tour de France. Calls on Galletti's mobile phone that were intercepted by police led to the uncovering of a supply network of blood transfusion bags.
Only a handful of riders initially knew of Galletti's fate during the Naranco event. Race-winner Rinaldo Nocentini was being interviewed at the finish above Oviedo when news began to filter through of an emergency involving a rider. First reports said that rider no.71, Gian Matteo Fagnini, was the rider who had been taken to hospital, but this was soon changed to no.73 - Galletti.
His Spanish team-mate Mario De Sarraga explained that "Alessio was riding in a group a bit behind us and had been saying that he had a pain in his chest. Suddenly, when we were already on the final climb, he stopped and said that his chest was hurting him a lot. He passed out on the road. We all stopped and did what we could to enable the ambulance to get to him as quickly as possible."
His former Saeco team-mate and friend Igor Astarloa said he had chatted with Galletti just a couple of hours before he died. "He told be that his chest was hurting, but he didn't attach any importance to it. He put it down to the travelling he'd done or fatigue, but he wasn't really worried," said the ex-world champion.
Naturino team manager Antonio Salutini described himself as "destroyed" when he was told the news. "He was always the one who was prepared to put in the hard work, he was always ready to help anyone in difficulties. Just two days ago he came to my house during a training ride. We exchanged a few words, and those moments will stay with me now. I feel like I'm in a ugly dream, but I know that I won't wake up from it."
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