Cycling was in a state of shock on Monday after Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt died following a crash during the third stage of the Giro d’Italia, the latest in a series of fatalities in the troubled sport.
Yesterday’s fourth stage to Livorno was set to go ahead, but riders were planning a tribute with the results unlikely to count and Weylandt’s teammates possibly being allowed to cross the line first as the peloton rides at a slow pace.
“The team is left in a state of shock and sadness, and we send all our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Wouter,” said Bryan Nygaard, manager of Weylandt’s Leopard-Trek team. “This is a difficult day for cycling and for our team, and we should all seek support and strength in the people close to us.”
Weylandt, 26, fell off his bike coming down from the Passo del Bocco, a stretch of road new race leader David Millar said was “a very technical descent.”
Doctors at the scene cut off his helmet and performed cardiac massage for 45 minutes at the side of the road, but their efforts were in vain despite the arrival of a helicopter.
He suffered multiple injuries, including to his skull.
“I was the first to intervene, I reached the scene barely 30 seconds after he had crashed and I was quickly joined by other experts, including a team doctor, but the situation was very serious, we could not do anything despite our best efforts,” race doctor Giovanni Tredici told a sombre press conference.
Details of the accident were sketchy and an investigation has been launched by a local magistrate.
Helmets have been mandatory in cycling since the death of Kazakhstan’s Andrei Kivilev in the Paris-Nice race in 2003, but the inherent danger of racing in groups at high speed down roads lined with spectators, walls or ravines has not gone away.
Italian Thomas Casarotto died following a crash during last year’s Giro del Friuli, also in Italy.
The last rider to die in an accident in a grand tour was Italy’s Fabio Casartelli during the 1995 Tour de France.
Weylandt claimed his biggest career win when he won the same stage of last year’s Giro, a day also marred by crashes.
“The UCI has heard of Wouter Weylandt’s death with great sadness and president Pat McQuaid’s thoughts and prayers go to the rider’s family and friends, but also to the riders, who will overcome the shock to start to race again tomorrow,” the International Cycling Union said in statement.
British rider Mark Cavendish wrote on his Twitter feed: “Things like this shouldn’t happen. Absolutely sick to the stomach. My thoughts are with his family. RIP Wouter Weylandt.”
In 2009, riders protested against what they saw as unsafe racing conditions on the Giro after Spanish rider Pedro Horrillo narrowly escaped death in a terrible crash down a ravine days earlier.
The peloton was upset at having to race by parked cars over cobbles in Milan city center and the stage results did not count.
Cycling, embroiled more than any other sport in a constant battle against doping as well as a row between the governing body and teams over rule changes, must now deal with a fresh crisis.
Spain’s Angel Vicioso won the third stage from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo in northern Italy, but the normal post-stage celebrations were canceled, as they were to be yesterday.
The Giro, the world’s second biggest cycling stage race after the Tour de France, is scheduled to end in Milan on May 29.