Alberto Contador won the Giro d’Italia at the weekend by an impressive – or suspicious – 6 minutes 10 seconds. But what I want to write about here is an episode which shows another side to the sport. On Stage 3, the young sprinter, Wouter Weylandt, crashed and died on a descent. Travelling at between 50-60 mph, his bike apparently clipped a wall as he looked back at a group behind him and he was thrown off, being killed instantly as hit a wall on the other side of the road.
Cycling is a dangerous sport, and crashes are common. But deaths on the road are rare, largely because of the extreme handling skills of those who make it to the professional ranks. There are about a thousand professionals in Europe – less than the number of footballers in the top two divisions in the English leagues alone.
When someone dies, cycling has its ways of honouring them. In the Giro, this was done by riding the next day’s stage, not racing it. Each of the teams in the race rode at the front of the peloton for 10 kilometres, and at the end of the stage Weylandt’s team, Leopard Trek, together with his training partner Tyler Farrar, were allowed to go to the front and cross the line together (see the picture at the top of this post). The prize money for the stage was donated to his family – his girlfriend is five months pregnant.
You might think that the spectators would be irritated about being deprived of a day’s racing. Not a bit of it: they stood by the road and applauded, paying their respects to the cortege.