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Alasdair Fotheringham

Obituary: Gino Mäder, a rider apart

Gino Mader

If there is one image that perhaps best sums up the career of Gino Mäder, it could be the moment when he stepped up to receive his final best young rider’s jersey in the 2021 Vuelta a España and, presumably grinning from ear to ear behind his facemask, he playfully made a deep bow to the crowd.

It wasn’t that Mäder, who died on June 16 from the injuries sustained a terrible crash in the Tour de Suisse, was unaware of what he’d just achieved in the Vuelta, given how hard he’d fought for his first Grand Tour classification title. His triumph in the competition came ahead of no less a challenger than Egan Bernal and at the end of a horrendously-tough third week of the Vuelta.

But apart from a fine sense of humour, that bow to the Spanish public in front of Santiago de Compostela cathedral also revealed a sharp sense of perspective and of the world beyond cycling -  the latter all too uncommon in sport, where self-centredness and shutting out the bigger picture is often seen as a pathway to success.

Indeed, quite apart from the white jersey, Mäder’s pride in his Vuelta performance also was due to his raising a hefty amount of money for an African re-greening charity, Just Diggit,  by donating one Euro for every rider he finished ahead of on each stage.

“That’s pretty cheap for each rider. But I hope it’s going to be a good sum by the end of the Vuelta,” Mäder told Cyclingnews midway through the race, when his adopted cause, decided by popular vote (or likes), was already 1,000 Euros to the good.

Mäder’s interest in African causes was born after he turned pro with Dimension Data in 2019, a team with a long history of working with projects designed to help bring bikes to economically struggling townships in South Africa.

But his interest in questions and causes greater than himself went from helping people on the other side of the world to direct local action, like adopting a stray dog from the streets of Bilbao, naming the dog Pello after his teammate in Bahrain Victorious.

That strongly-developed awareness of others was present again when he took his first and only Grand Tour stage win at the 2021 Giro d’Italia. Mäder had some key unfinished business that day - after losing a Paris-Nice stage earlier that year to Primož Roglič by the bare minimum, he was determined to fend off the fast-closing peloton this time. But he insisted all the same on dedicating his hilltop victory to teammate Mikel Landa, badly injured and forced to abandon in a crash the day before. 

"Yesterday was such a sad day, and today we just said we're going to ride in honour of Mikel's lost Giro," Mäder said afterwards. It was the kind of team gesture which had tragic echoes in Friday's mass ride in the Tour de Suisse, only this time with the whole peloton paying tribute to a life, not just a race, that was lost way too soon.

Gino after Gino Bartali

Gino Mader bows to the crowd after stage 21 of the 2021 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty)

Born in Switzerland in 1997, Mäder began his sporting career at the age of just five by playing football, but he always seemed all but destined to end up in cycling. After all, as he recounted after winning at the 2021 Giro, his first WorldTour victory, both his parents were keen cyclists, his father at elite level. Hence his name Gino, which he was given in honour of the Italian legend Gino Bartali. It surely made his breakthrough triumph on Italian roads all the more special.

After working his way up through the underage ranks, one of this last major results as an amateur was a fourth place in the under-23 road race at the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. His compatriot Marc Hirschi took the victory, and another Swiss rider Patrick Müller took ninth, but his result in the Worlds' was just the latest confirmation of Mäder’s place in a ‘golden generation’ of U23 Swiss riders.

Indeed, 2018 was Mäder's best-ever amateur season. After two stage wins in the Tour de L’Avenir and one in the Tour d’Alsace and another in the Ronde de l’Isard, his excellent performance on Switzerland’s Worlds was effectively the last stamp in his career passport en route to turning pro the next year with Dimension Data.

As he later explained in an interview with, the connections between Switzerland’s golden generation predated those Worlds and went all the way back to their time racing together during their military service.

Mäder, third from left, with Swiss teammates prior to the start  of the U-23 2018 World Championhips (Image credit: Getty)

“It’s not well-known amongst cycling fans, but the names that come up [in Swiss cycling] right now are those of riders I’ve been racing with since the U-15,” Mäder told the French language website. “Even back then Patrick was racing extremely well. I must have started racing with him at least ten years ago.”

Hirschi’s win was a collective triumph, he insisted, one of a band of brothers who knew each other for years. “That’s also because four or five of us did our obligatory 18-week military service together. I can tell you that three months and a half almost all the time together, and not just training, helps build team spirit and cohesion.

"And if he’d not been going so well, then Patrick and me would have up there. The Swiss team would have been very difficult to beat today.”

'I think I've arrived'

Gino Mäder after winning stage 8 of the 2021 Tour de Suisse (Image credit: Getty)

After such a strong final amateur year, Mäder reportedly struggled badly in his first two years as a pro at Dimension Data, with issues on and off the bike. When he finally joined Bahrain Victorious in 2021, he said in one press release, “The team [Bahrain] believed in my qualities and trusted me before I did".

"I didn’t have a great start to my professional career,” Mäder once said, and his second year saw him forced to look for a new contract in the middle of a cycling season warped out of all recognition by the pandemic. Still, the campaign ended on a high note.

Selected for his first Grand Tour at the 2020 Vuelta, Mäder grabbed the opportunity with both hands, finishing second behind Groupama-FDJ's David Gaudu on the penultimate stage to the Alto de la Covatilla, and taking an impressive 20th overall.

Even when talking to velo-club, Mader had hinted strongly that his future lay more in stage races than in one-day events and 2021 confirmed that. Riding his first Giro in 2021 as a support rider for Landa, the Basque’s abandon after a crash left the way open for Mäder to seek his own options and honour his missing leader and he certainly did that on stage 6.

"I started to think maybe I could win the stage with 5k to go, but I was really not sure and then with one kilometre to go I was worried that the same thing would happen again as in Paris-Nice because I didn't have the legs any more," Mäder said about the first WorldTour win of his career, and his first victory since a stage of the Tour of Hainan in 2018.

"Then with 100 metres to go, I really started to believe that maybe this was the day. And with 10 metres to go, I was sure. But I was thinking about Paris-Nice, and I knew I had to go as hard as possible all the way to the line not to have any regrets."

Forced to quit the Giro after injuring his left arm, that kind of determination to leave a race with nothing left to give netted Mäder what was perhaps an even more emotionally valuable win, triumphing on home soil  on the last stage of the 2021 Tour Suisse at the end of a two-up late break against Mike Woods.

“The way I won today was completely different to the way I won out of a breakaway [at the Giro],” Mäder said.  “I think I can say now I’ve arrived.”

Onto the Vuelta

La Vuelta a España 2021: Gino Mäder with former Dimension Data teammate Ryan Gibbons at the finish line of stage 20 (Image credit: Getty)

If there was any doubt Mäder had his place amongst the top end of the sport, it was to be erased later that year with his fifth place overall in the Vuelta a España and the white jersey.

Modest to a fault  - but showing, as ever, his awareness of the bigger picture  - Mäder described taking his first Grand Tour top five as “unexpected and maybe a bit too good,” surely a reference to the exit of Miguel Ángel López from the race 24 hours earlier when the Colombian had been lying third overall. But his performance nonetheless netted him a new, two-year contract with Bahrain Victorious and consolidated his ‘arrival’ in the pro ranks.

After a more uneven start to 2022, with an abandon in Paris-Nice, he began to gain traction at the Tour of Romandie, where he placed second. However, his roller coaster year continued when Mäder fell ill and abandoned the Tour de Suisse suffering from stomach illness and dehydration, and after a DNS at the Nationals,  a much-anticipated participation in the Tour de France then failed to materialise due to COVID-19.

Mäder tried hard to bounce back in the 2022 Vuelta a España, going constantly on the attack in the third week and getting into four different breaks. But none of them bore fruit and he came into 2023 determined to get his racing back on a more even keel.

Fifth in an exceptionally-tough edition of Paris-Nice augered more than well, and 15th in the Tour de Romandie suggested he could heading for another strong summer. Having missed out on a return to the Giro when he fell foul of COVID-19 in the run-up, Mäder then opted to try to rebuild his season in the Tour de Suisse this June. 

But the results were only ever a small part of the story. As Friday's outpouring of grief and sadness has shown, it is Gino Mäder the person, the rider who always looked beyond himself and to the world beyond cycling, who will be missed the most. 

Gino Mäder was born in Flawil, Switzerland on January 4, 1997. He died in Chur, Switzerland on June 16, 2023.

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