MILAN (AP) Michele Scarponi, who won the Giro d'Italia in 2011, died after a collision with a van while training on Saturday. He was 37.
Scarponi was training near his home of Filottrano, near Ancona, when he was hit by a van at a crossroad, Team Astana said.
According to Italian media reports, the Astana cyclist died on the spot and was unable to be revived by emergency services which arrived promptly.
Team Astana called it ''a tragedy too big to be written'' in a statement.
''We left a great champion and a special guy, always smiling in every situation, he was a real mile stone and a landmark for everyone in the Astana Pro Team,'' it added.
Scarponi is survived by a wife and twin sons, who are only four years old.
He had returned home after finishing fourth in the Tour of the Alps on Friday in Trento. He won the first stage on Monday.
Scarponi had posted a photo on Twitter on Friday night, with his sons on his back and the caption: ''Even if only for a day I thought I'd bring home two leaders' jerseys.''
His wife, Anna, put a photo on Instagram several hours after the death of Scarponi, showing him pedaling outside the Astana team bus watched by his sons. She wrote ''thank-you everyone.''
Scarponi was awarded the 2011 Giro trophy after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title because of doping.
The Italian had also faced doping sanctions. He was banned for 18 months in July 2007 following the long-running Operation Puerto doping scandal, while he served a three-month suspension from the end of 2012 after working with the banned physician Michele Ferrari.
Scarponi had been named as Astana's leader for the upcoming Giro d'Italia, which starts in less than two weeks, after Fabio Aru pulled out with a knee injury.
''An infinite tragedy. Words don't exist. Rest in peace my friend,'' Aru tweeted.
Former teammate Vincenzo Nibali wrote: ''I don't know, I can't cope! I don't have words my friend...''
Scarponi was one of the most liked riders on the circuit, with his sense of humor and jovial disposition. He often started training rides with his parrot on his shoulder, posting videos which quickly went viral.
''Yesterday he was racing. He came up to me. Michele was smiling, as ever,'' Italy team coach Davide Cassani wrote on Twitter. ''He was happy for (Monday's) win. He was talking about the Giro. And now I'm here crying for him. Oh my God.''
The Italian football federation announced there will be a minute's silence at all matches this weekend in honor of Scarponi and other sports are expected to follow suit.
Scarponi was an Inter Milan fan and had reportedly planned to attend the Nerazzurri's Serie A match at Fiorentina on Saturday night.
Inter was one of the many sports teams which tweeted their support, along with governing bodies and athletes.
''Our condolences and hugs to your dearest in a very sad day for sport. Your Inter bids you farewell with affection,'' Inter wrote.