Wherever this wild, electrifying Tour de France turns, there is one present: Gino Mäder. Riders from all teams have a sticker reading ‘#RideForGino’ on their helmets, a larger version is printed onto the side of the Bahrain-Victorious bus, while the race number 61 and Mäder’s name are proudly displayed on the team’s bus windscreen, a front and centre reminder of the late Swiss rider.
This Tour de France was always going to be an emotional, poignant one. Mäder died after a crash at the Tour de Suisse just two weeks before the Tour got underway in Bilbao. He was 26. His Bahrain-Victorious team, distraught and devastated by his loss, set out on a mission to ride in his memory.
That meant not just victories, but with panache, with a smile. Mäder, a student of the world and a thoughtful, intelligent young man destined for greatness on and off the bike, said that the job of a professional cyclist was one of an entertainer. For the past 19 stages, Bahrain have imitated their close friend, riding the Tour in his honour, showing brave, attacking and daring racing, and racking up the wins.
The latest came on stage 19 in Poligny. At the start of the day, the forecast was breakaway with a chance of a sprint victory, and while the prognostication did bear fruit, few had envisaged such a thrilling, tit-for-tat day of racing. Riders went clear, riders formed small groups, riders were brought back. It was a sequence repeated throughout. For observers, it was maybe the most exciting day of the whole race. It was certainly the fastest.
Come the finale, with the sprint king Jasper Philipsen leading the charge in the second group on the road, stage 18’s victor Kasper Asgreen was riding furiously out front alongside Ben O’Connor and Matej Mohorič. Their lead hovered around the 30-second mark until it became certain one of the trio would triumph.
Mohorič, twice a stage winner in 2021, kicked out of Asgreen’s slipstream inside the final few hundred metres, and he quickly came alongside the Dane, the pair throwing their bikes at the line together. “If I did a sprint with Kasper in training 100 times, I would lose all 100 times,” Mohorič said. But he didn’t, he triumphed; it was the power of Gino.
When Pello Bilbao won on stage 10 in Issoire, the emotion was overwhelming, the Spaniard screaming “for Gino!” into his team radio. When Wout Poels won on stage 15 to Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, the scenes were similar, the sentiment the same. When it was announced that Mohorič had beaten Asgreen by a tyre’s width in Poligny, the tears came again, Fred Wright wrapped his arms around his close friend and teammate, and more tears fell.
In a post-stage TV interview that touched the hearts of many, Mohorič spoke about the sacrifices he and entire teams do just to get a rider at the startline of the world’s biggest bike race. “It can change your life, a Tour de France win,” he said, tears never far away. “We’ve been through hard times with everything that’s happened, I’m just super proud and happy.”
On Puy de Dôme on stage nine, Mohorič found himself as one of the last remnants of the break. He was never going to win on the famous volcano, but he had extra motivation. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t win this stage’, but I did my best, I just smashed myself up that climb for Gino,” the Slovenian said, wiping his eyes again. “I knew he was a climber, he went hard on so many climbs, and I was at the Giro in 2021 when he won. I didn’t care that I couldn’t win the stage, I wanted to do my best for him, because he can’t anymore. Gino gives us that extra bit of motivation.”
Mäder viewed cycling as being part of the entertainment business, and Mohorič is one of the sport’s principal actors. “You do it for yourself, for your dreams, and for people to enjoy the spectacle,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s just a game, we play, we try to beat each other, sometimes there is pain, [but] we push ourselves. We want this, we enjoy it. I couldn’t give up.”
Gino Mäder may no longer be here, but he’s here in spirit, everywhere this wild Tour de France turns. His memory is being remembered, honoured every day, and his legacy enhanced by the actions of his teammates. It’s been a Tour de France partly defined by Bahrain-Victorious, but most importantly, thanks to the efforts from his team, it’s been Gino’s Tour.