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A history of professional cyclists who died from heart attacks

Many young pro cyclists have died as a result of a cardiac arrest

On Monday, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorius) passed out almost immediately after finishing second on an uphill sprint at the end of the 171-km first stage of the Volta a Catalunya. He received a cardiac massage and was rushed to hospital.

Colbrelli is not the first pro cyclist to suffer such a medical emergency. Thankfully, the Italian is recovering. After spending the night at the University Hospital of Girona, his team has said that the Paris-Roubaix winner is conscious and that the cardiac tests to which he has been subjected “show no signs of concern or compromised functions.” The team also said that the European champion suffered an unstable cardiac arrhythmia which required defibrillation.

In the statement, his team said that on Tuesday he will be subjected to more tests so then can determine the cause of the incident. The cyclist, meanwhile, “has been in contact with family and friends while recovering in hospital.”

The list of young and seemingly healthy cyclists who tragically succumbed to heart attacks, however, is much longer than you’d think.

Tommy Simpson

The most famous cyclists who died from a heart attack is English rider, Tommy Simpson. The 29-year-old Tommy Simpson perished on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in 1967.  The post-mortem on Simpson revealed he had mixed amphetamines and alcohol, a common blend of performance-enhancing drugs at the time. There is a monument to the rider on the spot where he died.

Vicente López Carril

Spanish rider Vicente López Carril died in 1980 at 37 from a heart attack. His death was mentioned by the former Festina soigneuer Willy Voet in his book Massacre à la chaîne. The book contained details on drugs in cycling, including  photographs of the written doping records he used to keep track of the different performance-enhancing drugs. Those records were used in court as evidence during the trials of the Festina affair.  In the case of Carril, Voet did acknowledge the impossibility of proving the link between the death and the drugs taken while racing.

Marc Demeyer

Belgian rider Marc Demeyer died in 1982, at the age of 31, from a heart attack. Similarly, he is mentioned in Massacre à la chaîne.

Bert Oosterbosch

Bert Oosterbosch of the Netherlands died in 1989, at the age 32, from a heart attack. His death was mentioned in Massacre à la chaîne. There are those who have suggested it may have been due to the use of EPO, but it has not been proven. Voet mentioned the Dutch rider took the drug in the 1982 Grand Prix des Nations.

Joachim Halupczok

Polish cyclist Joachim Halupczok died at age of 26 in 1994. The former world champion had a heart arrhythmia, which caused him to retire at 24. It was suspected that the problems were associated with the abuse of drugs.

Stive Vermaut

In 2004, Belgian Stive Vermaut died when he was 28 from a heart attack while training. He was a former teammate of Lance Armstrong.

Tim Pauwels

Also in 2004, cyclocross rider Tim Pauwels died at the age of 23 during a race in Belgium.

Alessio Galletti

The Italian pro Alessio Galletti suffer from a heart attack and fell off his bike when racing in Spain. He was 37.

Bruno Neves

The Portuguese cyclist died in 2008 from a heart failure that caused him to crash in a race .

Rob Goris

The Belgian rider Rob Goris died of a heart attack at the age of 30 in his hotel during a stage race.

Frederiek Nolf

The 21-year-old cyclist died in his sleep during the 2009 Qatar Tour, apparently from a heart attack. It was never verified as his parents refused to have an autopsy performed.

Gijs Verdick

In 2016, Dutch rider Gijs had two heart attacks during a race in Poland. He was then placed in an artificial coma and died the next day. He was 21.

Daan Myngheer

Also in 2016, Belgian Daan Myngheer died from a heart attack in a race in France. He was 22 years old.

Michael Goolaerts

Belgian cyclist Michael Goolaerts died of a heart attack during Paris-Roubaix in 2019. He was 23.

Robert de Greef

The Dutch pro died in 2019 during a race, suffering a heart attack. He was 27.

Niels De Vriendt

In 2020, the Belgian rider died during a race, apparently from a heart attack. It was Niels De Vriendt’s first race back after events had been cancelled due to COVID-19. He was 20.

Eslam Nasser Zaki

Eslam Nasser Zaki was 22 when he died during a race in South Africa. The cause of death was a heart attack.