Six weeks in the past, on the night earlier than his closing skilled race and in the course of a protracted dialog that took within the peaks and valleys of his three many years within the peloton, the late Davide Rebellin was at pains to stress one factor: the Veneto Basic marked the finish of a chapter, however the story of his life on two wheels was not full.
“I’m going out on the bike as a result of I’m following my ardour. Sunday’s my final race, however Monday or Tuesday, I’ll already be again on the bike,” Rebellin mentioned softly. “For me, it’s actually a manner of feeling good in myself. It’s my lifestyle. And I do know it will likely be like that afterwards, too. I all the time mentioned that I’d maintain doing races for so long as I felt good. It’s going to be totally different now, however I’ll nonetheless be going out on the bike. It’s my manner of feeling good.”
Rebellin was true to his phrase. Final Sunday, in his adopted residence of Monte Carlo, the 51-year-old was among the many individuals within the Beking Monaco Criterium, an exhibition occasion organised by Matteo Trentin. By midweek, Rebellin was again in his native Veneto. Inevitably, he was within the saddle.
Even again in his darkest days, when he was stripped of his Olympic medal and banned from competitors, when his first marriage was falling aside, and when his tax affairs had been being scrutinised throughout nationwide newspapers, the bicycle remained a supply of sunshine for Rebellin. At occasions, it’d even have served as a lifeboat.
“Perhaps I felt sickened by the milieu of biking, however I used to be by no means sickened by the thought of using my bike. I all the time beloved that,” Rebellin mentioned in that lengthy cellphone name in October. “So long as I can pedal, I’ll maintain doing it, and all the time with pleasure.”
For Rebellin, even in retirement, a depressing day in early winter was all the time more likely to be adorned with a motorcycle journey. On Wednesday morning, he set out for a spin that took him in direction of Montebello Vicentino. He by no means got here again. He was killed immediately shortly earlier than noon when he was struck by a truck whose driver reportedly did not cease on the scene.
That Rebellin died doing what he beloved finest is not any comfort in any respect for many who beloved him. Italy, the nexus of the bicycle business, has change into an more and more harmful place to journey a motorcycle. Rebellin’s tragic demise echoes that of Michele Scarponi in 2017 and people of so many different cyclists up and down the peninsula in recent times. The routine act of biking on public roads has change into fraught with unacceptable danger.
Italy’s class of 1992
Rebellin was born in San Bonifacio, simply east of Verona, in 1971. For about way back to he may bear in mind, he needed to be a motorcycle rider. The one different profession to which he briefly aspired in his youth was the priesthood, however because the years glided by, Sunday grew to become synonymous with races moderately than rosaries.
He began racing as a juvenile within the early Nineteen Eighties with the Pizzini di Malcesine workforce, the place his uncle was among the many coaches. By the flip of the last decade, he was among the many most vaunted amateurs in Europe, profitable the Giro delle Regioni in 1991 and taking silver within the World Championships in Stuttgart later that yr.
The next summer time, Rebellin helped the late Fabio Casartelli win the highway race on the Barcelona Olympics earlier than turning skilled instantly afterwards as a part of a golden technology of Italian expertise that included Marco Pantani, Francesco Casagrande and Michele Bartoli.
His first workforce was MG-GB, the place, regardless of some eye-catching early shows, he struggled to combine. In hindsight, the powerful love method of Giancarlo Ferretti – the so-called ‘Iron Sergeant’ – was hardly suited to Rebellin’s quiet sensibility. “In comparison with the others, I had some difficulties getting outcomes,” Rebellin says. “Perhaps it was a bit due to my character: I used to be very timid and shy, and I struggled to seek out the fitting feeling with the workforce.”
The turning level got here when Rebellin moved to Polti in 1996, the place he received a stage of the Giro d’Italia at Monte Sirino and wore the maglia rosa for 5 days en path to sixth total. That consequence triggered hopes that he would possibly change into a Grand Tour contender, however after a largely attempting season at Marc Madiot’s nascent La Française des Jeux workforce, Rebellin returned to Italy, first with Polti after which with Liquigas, the place he now targeted totally on Classics and quick stage races.
In his late 20s and early 30s, Rebellin received the Clásica San Sebastián (1997), Züri-Metzgete (1997) and Tirreno-Adriatico (2001), earlier than attaining his most interesting hour after his switch to German squad Gerolsteiner. In 2004, he received the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, incomes himself the moniker of ‘Trebellin,’ however the acclaim was not common in his residence nation, the place this primarily shy and awkward man had all the time been overshadowed by extra charismatic contemporaries like Pantani.
After being omitted from the Italian workforce for the Athens Olympics, Rebellin took the controversial step of looking for Argentinian citizenship to take part in that yr’s World Championships on residence roads in Verona, however the transfer was blocked on the eve of the race.
Irrespective of, Rebellin endured, steadfastly amassing outcomes till he could possibly be ignored no extra. By 2008, he had received Paris-Good and one other Flèche Wallonne, incomes himself a spot on the Italian squad for the Olympic Video games. In Beijing, he took silver within the highway race behind Samuel Sánchez on the age of 37. It ought to have been the zenith of Rebellin’s profession however as a substitute it proved to be the nadir.
Days after he received Flèche for the third time in April 2009, it was introduced that Rebellin’s had examined optimistic for the blood-boosting drug CERA following reanalysis of his pattern from Beijing, as had his Gerolsteiner teammate Stefan Schumacher. Rebellin denied all wrongdoing, even after he was handed a two-year ban and have become the primary Italian athlete in historical past to be stripped of an Olympic medal for doping.
Though he later prevented a legal prosecution for doping in Italy, the sporting verdict remained, and Rebellin needed to mail his medal again to the IOC to be reassigned to Fabian Cancellara. “I used to be incredulous. For a very long time, I couldn’t consider this was taking place,” Rebellin mentioned in October. “Even when I don’t have it bodily, I really feel prefer it’s nonetheless mine.”
Starting once more
Rebellin will need to have felt like his life was unravelling within the months that adopted. His spouse and agent Selina Martinello served as his spokesperson when the scandal erupted, however the couple would divorce earlier than Rebellin’s ban had run its course. In the meantime, the Italian tax authorities had been intently scrutinising the legitimacy of his residency in Monaco.
The ban and its fall-out broke Rebellin’s profession as a top-level bicycle owner, however he later questioned if it hadn’t been the making of him as a person. Though the doorways of WorldTour groups would stay closed to him for the rest of his profession, Rebellin picked up the items of his life and remade it. He was later cleared of tax evasion, and he married his second spouse Fanfan in 2014. “I used to be not fixated solely on the bike, it opened me up extra to life basically,” he mentioned. “Let’s imagine this even strengthened me as a person.”
When he returned to racing with Miche in 2011, Rebellin instantly received the Tre Valli Varesine, however the WorldTour remained out of attain. He would make it as far Professional Continental stage with CCC in 2013, however even then, it was whispered that the Polish workforce’s Giro invitation was awarded on the situation that Rebellin was left at residence.
And but Rebellin stored on going, racing previous his fortieth birthday and ultimately past his fiftieth. Every change of workforce introduced him additional away from Broadway however his enthusiasm for racing a motorcycle remained in some way undimmed. After CCC, he rode for Kuwait-Cartucho workforce, then Meridiana-Kamen, and at last with the Padova-based Work Service squad.
As an alternative of returning to the Giro or racing up the Mur de Huy once more, he now discovered himself lining up in Iran and Indonesia for a minimal wage. Rebellin’s unstated banishment contrasted with the welcome mats that had been laid out for different convicted dopers of the period reminiscent of Ivan Basso and even Danilo Di Luca. The Italian didn’t assist his personal trigger, after all, by by no means as soon as confessing to wrongdoing, however because the years glided by and his profession stored on going, his public picture softened significantly.
Too responsible to be a sufferer, but too mild to be a villain, Rebellin got here to be seen extra with intrigue than with disdain. His outstanding longevity – he continued racing even after breaking his tibia and fibula aged 50 on the Memorial Marco Pantani – earned him respect, and his close to vegan weight loss program stoked curiosity. Even in his pomp, he had by no means impressed adulation, however in center age, his innate politeness and his mild manner of carrying himself now received him quiet affection.
Even those that denounced his doping previous couldn’t assist however be compelled by the thriller of his endless tour as a bicycle owner. Rebellin rode the UCI Gravel World Championships in an Italian jersey in October, and he had plans to maintain competing in that self-discipline past the formal finish of his highway profession.
“I feel that he’ll proceed using a motorcycle all his life,” the previous L’Équipe author Philippe Brunel as soon as mentioned. “Perhaps it’s on the bike that he feels finest. Perhaps he feels higher there than amongst males.”
Davide Rebellin was born in San Bonifacio, Italy on 9 August, 1971. He died in Montebello Vicentino, Italy on 30 November, 2022.