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Damian McDonald remembered: April 3, 2007

Another life, another one too many, taken too soon to comprehend

By Gerard Knapp

Damian McDonald
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

The Australian cycling community was shocked to learn of the tragic death of one of its favourite sons, Damian McDonald, a Commonwealth Games gold medal winning-cyclist who also took out the inaugural Tour de Langkawi. But he was known as much for his personality, warmth and sense of humour as much as his selfless work as one of the stalwarts of Australia's influential Giant-AIS squad. Undoubtedly, this team laid the platform for many Australian cyclists to go on to race at the highest level. McEwen, Gates, White, Dennis, Vogels, Brosnan, to name but a few. The list of riders who rode with Damian McDonald and also benefited from his courage and tenacity goes on, and all it seems, will miss him immensely.

It seems unfair that a person who risked life and limb racing his bike would have his life taken away in an almost freak accident inside a suburban tunnel, while in a car, but that is what happened to Damian McDonald and two other men who were killed when a truck caught fire in Melbourne's Burnley Tunnel on March 23. To be taken at 34, and with leaving a wife with their first infant child, shows again the frailty of human life, but in this case, a life lived to its fullest.

With his public service scheduled for this Thursday, April 5 at the St Johns Cathedral, Melbourne, five people who knew Damian well remember the cyclist and close friend in these tributes. Cyclingnews offers its deepest sympathies to those who knew and loved this lion-hearted cyclist, friend, husband and father.

A true blue Aussie

Damian was undoubtedly one of the most prominent and vocal riders of my Giant-AIS team, which firstly put Australia on the world cycling map.

A true blue Aussie, who not only had the guts to challenge and beat the world, but also to celebrate our success afterwards. I always loved the fights, arguments and discussions with him, his never ending questions and, most importantly, to be able to convince him that we were on the right track to beat the world. Because if he believed, then the whole team would agree.

With Giant AIS team manager Heiko Salzwedel
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

His open minded, outspoken character was the real joy of my job with the Aussies. One rider on my new Danish team reminds me very much of him, so much so that I sometimes call him Damian.

Damian, you will always stay with me in the middle of my heart.

Heiko Salzwedel
National Coach, Track Cycling
Denmark Cycling Union

A brother, lost

Damian, you were a huge part of my life for a long time. You were one of the boys; a very confident, likeable guy who was always up for a good time, a gifted athlete, a natural leader but most of all a great mate. We said we would always be brothers no matter what happened in our lives and you will always be that.

Damian was one of the only athletes I know who moved on from being a cyclist into the real world with such ease and confidence. I will remember him for all the great times we had together, all the laughs and life experiences, but as a happy family man, mostly.

His loss is such a huge loss for cycling and, mate, we will all miss that big smile.

Henk Vogels
Professional cyclist
Toyota United-Pro

A mate for life

Crossing the line
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

As a close mate, and there are many of us, I can't help but want to try and express the bloke Macca was. But where do you start? There are so many great thoughts and memories, all that make me smile, from years ago racing bikes, to the present - a mate of Macca's was a mate for life. Such a character, infectious, larger than life, persistent, overly confident, show-off, committed, loyal, generous, and such a proud father, husband, brother, son, mate. I don't think I'll ever believe he's not with us.

Damian was a supremely talented athlete, but when he called it quits, no-one ever doubted he'd be a salesman - convertible sports cars, business suits, extended lunches, etc. He loved to share his perks with his mates. Man, the guy could tell a yarn that would convince himself!

Macca loved life and living and would take you along for the ride with him, he's someone we'll never forget. My thoughts are with his family: Bree, Lachlan, Dean, his parents, parents in-law, and mates. He'll be missed by so many but we all have our own vivid memories that bring Damian to life at any chosen moment. For me personally, I'm full of pride and a better person for knowing him, and I know he'd want us to celebrate him and embrace our own life.

Paul Brosnan
Head Cycling Coach
Tasmanian Institute of Sport

He could 'sell ice to eskimos'

I first met Damian when he was a young teenager and I was racing in the Sun Tour. I was friends of his brother Dean. Damian would come to the finish in Wangaratta with a thousand questions. About six years later I was coaching him at the AIS.

Few would accuse Damian of being an angel. He had a sharp wit and made sure that he was in the middle of all the action. He proclaimed himself "Daddy Mac".

We had our run ins but it was hard to stay mad at Damian. He was one of those larger than life characters with a healthy ego and a sensitive side. Everyone said that Damian could sell ice to Eskimos. Damian could not only "talk the talk" but he could "walk the walk".

Damian was well known
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Australian road cycling owes a debt to Damian who, with Brett Dennis, Henk Vogels and Phil Anderson, won the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games Teams Time Trial in 1994. Damian was the one who qualified Australia a full team for the Atlanta Olympic Games with his ride in the 1995 World Championships on a tough course in Colombia. Then in 1996 he qualified himself a spot in the Olympic team. The following year he moved on from Cycling and made a life for himself in Melbourne.

I would still get phone calls anywhere, anytime while on the road in Europe from Damian. After the required questions about how the guys were going, he'd get down to the real point of the call. To tell me how "Daddy Mac" was going. I'd always be chuckling for half an hour after a call from Damian.

After many years of working with Australia's young elite male road cyclists, a few remain fixed in my memory. Damian is one of those, who still comes up regularly in conversation.

To Dean, Bree, little Lachlan, Damian's parents and friends, my thoughts and those of all of us here with the AIS in Europe, are with you.

I hope his memory gives you strength.

Brian Stephens
Sport Director
South Australia.com - AIS professional cycling team

Consistent, tough, committed

Through the nineties Damian McDonald was very much the face of the Giant AIS team, the cycling spokesperson of the Australian road cycling team and was an invaluable member of that team.

Damian was a great tour rider and in 1993 I well remember an outstanding performance in the Tour DuPont when the team failed by just a few seconds in winning the teams championship against many great professional teams. It was an outstanding effort and Damian's solo second in a tough stage in Virginia contributed very much to that, as did the outstanding pedalling of the likes of Brett Dennis and Patrick Jonker.

In the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, Damian rarely finished out of the top ten and was a great tour cyclist - consistent and tough.

Hovering above my office chair is a photo of Damian speaking on behalf of the Giant AIS team at the 1996 launch of the team. He was a very natural speaker and so affable - a member of the team that worked so well with team management - Heiko Salzwedel, Andrew Logan, Brian Stephens and his teammates.

Damian will be sadly missed by so many people that have traversed his life.


Phill Bates AM
Organiser and founder
Commonwealth Bank Cycling Classic

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