RAPALLO, Italy (VN) – The tragic death of Wouter Weylandt left the Giro d’Italia in a state of shock Monday.
Riders were not told of the accident until after crossing the finish line in Rapallo and the mood quickly descended into sadness and mourning. Angel Vicioso’s victory and David Millar’s pink jersey were obviously overshadowed by what is the fourth death in Giro history caused by a crash.
“It’s the unthinkable, isn’t it? It doesn’t even bear thinking about how it must have been for his family watching that on TV. Leaving that being filmed, of a young man bleeding and dying on the road, in my opinion, is just disgusting,” Millar told VeloNews and two other journalists. “That just shows what our sport is about. It’s pretty extreme. There’s no point even dedicating anything to Wouter, because it doesn’t even come close to make up for what has happened.”
Wouter, 27, crashed near the back of the bunch near the bottom of the third-category climb on a narrow, treacherous descent that led down to the coast road toward the finish line.
It’s not exactly clear what caused the crash, but he apparently fell at a very high speed while trying to stay close to the attacking peloton. TV images captured Weylandt lying on his back with traces of blood. Doctors quickly arrived and immediately began CPR. He was later transported by helicopter and confirmed dead by officials.
“It was a very technical descent. We raced hard ahead of it to make sure we were at the front going down,” Millar continued. “Anything could have happened on it, we went controlled because we were at the front, but that means at the back they would have been strung out.”
Garmin-Cervélo sport director Bingen Fernández was one of the first people to arrive at the scene. He told VeloNews he assumed the worst as soon as he saw the Belgian sprawled on the tarmac.
“When we saw him, it looked very bad. It appeared that he was dead. He was not moving and there was no sign of life. His neck was twisted in an unnatural way and there was blood coming out. It was a horrible scene,” Fernández recounted. “Our team doctor stayed with him to treat him. This is what cyclists face every day they race. It is a very dangerous sport. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often. When it does, it’s horrible for everyone.”
Garmin-Cervélo sprinter Tyler Farrar was especially close to Weylandt and the pair regularly train together in their Belgian home base of Ghent. Farrar went pale when a team soigneur informed him at the finish line and then he dropped his bike in shock when a journalist later confirmed the bad news outside the team bus.
The scene was equally grim around the Leopard-Trek team bus. Riders reacted at shock at the finish line with the news.
“I saw him crash,” said Leopard-Trek rider Tom Stamsnijder said at the line. “It was a very hard fall.”
Leopard’s Brice Feillu also reacted with dismay at the line, saying: “It was a very technical descent, right and left, right and left. No one told us until right now … it is a catastrophe for our team. He is a great friend and a great teammate.”
Race officials canceled post-race podium presentations. Millar later said he was simply handed the pink jersey without any sort of the usual pomp and circumstance that goes with winning the pink jersey.
Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan spoke to journalists before the official announcement of Weylandt’s death was confirmed. He defended the Giro’s readiness to deal with accidents.
“We have all the best available emergency equipment to deal with these kinds of things, but everyone knows it’s never very easy at a bicycle race,” Zomegnan said. “After what happened to (Pedro) Horrillo (two years when he fell into a ravine), we now have two extra ambulances traveling in the caravan. A helicopter was quickly on the scene.”
Zomegnan is scheduled to give a press conference at 7:30 p.m. local time. Check back to VeloNews for more on the tragic story.