MADDALONI, Italy (VN) ─ Hendrik Redant came to the Giro d’Italia to drive around VIPs and make a few extra bucks before trying to land another cycling job following the collapse of the Pegasus cycling project.
The 48-year-old ex-pro never expected to be in the front line of the unfolding drama surrounding the tragic death of Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt.
As the lone Flemish speaker of among the Giro entourage, Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan roped in the multi-lingual Belgian to help escort the Weylandt family through the harrowing experience of visiting the Giro in the wake of their son’s tragic death.
“It’s been a hard few days, I have to admit,” Redant told VeloNews. “I am the only person in the Giro organization that speaks Flemish. When the crash happened, Angelo asked me to help out with the family when they came to Italy. Of course, I said yes.”
Redant and a few other drivers, together with Zomegnan, drove to Milan to meet Weylandt’s parents, fiancee and his sister when they arrived at 11 p.m. from Belgium at Malpensa airport. They didn’t arrive at their hotel near Genova until 2:30 a.m. Redant would spend the next two days helping the family cope with Weylandt’s death.
“You can imagine what they were going through. The father said he knew it was Wouter as soon as he saw the first images on TV. A father knows his son,” Redant said. “Like anyone in that situation, they were just stunned. They couldn’t believe what had happened.”
Redant was with the family when they visited the site of the crash early Tuesday morning to leave flowers in his honor. Later, he transported the family to the local morgue because they wanted to say goodbye to their son. Delays, however, kept the family waiting nearly five hours before Weylandt’s body was finally ready.
“They wanted to be at the finish line in Livorno during the stage to honor Wouter,” he said. “There were delays and we just couldn’t get there in time.”
The family returned to Belgium the next day, but without Weylandt’s body because there were more delays by Italian officials. A funeral has been scheduled for Wednesday in Belgium.
“There will be thousands and thousands of people at the funeral, I am sure,” Redant said. “People in Belgium love cycling and everyone is really upset about what happened. Wouter was a very popular rider back home.”
Redant thought the ordeal was over until another Dutch-speaking rider crashed hard when racing resumed Wednesday. Rabobank rider Tom Jelte Slagter hit the deck with 15km to go and was motionless on the road. Thankfully, Slagter did not suffer life-threatening injuries.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I said, ‘This cannot be happening again!’” Redant said. “I really don’t know if I could go through all that again.”
Redant, meanwhile, is trying to move ahead following the sudden implosion of the Pegasus cycling team in Australia last fall. Redant walked away from the final year of his contract at Omega Pharma-Lotto to follow his dream of being a team manager, but it quickly turned into a nightmare when the sponsor walked away and the team unraveled.
“I always wanted to run my own team and everything looked like it was going to be great,” he said. “Then one day the phone rang to tell me the money was gone! I am hoping to land with another team. We’ll see what happens.”
What Redant did for the Weylandt family, however, is priceless.