Mariano Rojas Dies After Road Smash

Mariano Rojas Dies After Road Smash

It's a painful duty to have to report the death of ONCE rider Mariano Rojas Gil as a result of a traffic accident at 12.45 on Friday (June 22) at Archena, near Murcia. Rojas was driving to the airport at Alicante en route to the Spanish road championships at Sabinanigo when his car was in head-on collision with a truck and was then hit by another vehicle.

Rojas, who had celebrated his 23rd birthday on June 12, died in hospital in Murcia on Sunday morning after two sessions of heroic surgery, one of five hours and one of 12, during which he received liver and kidney transplants.

Mariano Rojas turned pro for ONCE in 1994 and had proved an invaluable and tireless worker -- in a team of hard workers -- for Laurent Jalabert and Alex Zulle. Rojas died before achieving a pro victory but his placings included 2nd in the Circuit de la Sarthe 1996, 4th in the GP du Midi Libre 1995, 4th in the Tour de l'Avenir 1995 and 12th in Paris--Nice 1996.

Rojas, who was ranked 118th by the UCI, was to have started his second Tour de France next Saturday. In his first Tour, last year, he retired with a broken collarbone while in 19th place on the fateful stage from Saint-Girons--Cauterets in which Fabio Casartelli lost his life,

Mariano Rojas's death met with a moving response from his ONCE team-mates. Laurent Jalabert was so devastated by the news -- he often shared a room with Rojas and was a close friend -- that he was unable to take the start of the French road championships at Castres. The Spanish members of the ONCE team abandoned participation in the Spanish championship road race and proceeded directly to Murcia for Rojas's funeral, which was to take place today (June 24).