The Giro d’Italia peloton this afternoon paid its own silent and touching tribute to Wouter Weylandt, the Leopard Trek rider’s team mates and his best friend Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Cervelo crossing the line nine abreast in Livorno at the head of the race in commemoration of the Belgian sprinter who died yesterday following a high-speed crash on the fast descent of the Passo del Bocco. It was to be Leopard Trek's last act of the race, the team anouncing this evening that the riders had decided to withdraw.
Prior to the emotional arrival in Livorno, the other 22 teams had taken it in turns to set the 35km an hour pace at the front of the peloton, the order in which they undertook their 10km pace-setting duties following, in reverse, their placings on the team classification.
In other circumstances, HTC-Highroad would have been expected to figure prominently at the front of the peloton as they tried to set up Mark Cavendish for what should have been a sprint finish.
Instead, it was Garmin-Cervelo, who top the team standings, that led the peloton into the closing ten kilometres. Symbolically, the team included not just maglia rosa David Millar, but also Weylandt’s close friend and training partner Tyler Farrar, who lives in the Belgian cyclist’s native Ghent and will now take no further part in this year’s race.
In a very poignant scene, Farrar joined the eight Leopard Trek men – Brice Feillu, Dominic Klemme, Thomas Rohregger, Tom Stamsnijder, Bruno Pires, Davide Vigano, Fabian Wegmann and Oliver Zaugg – leading the peloton through the final kilometres on a day when rivalries were set apart and the riders united in their grief.
Church bells tolled as a ripple of applause came from the spectators lining the finishing straight, in keeping with the Italian custom of clapping in celebration of the life of one who has passed on.
This morning, Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that several of the team’s riders wanted it to pull out of the Giro yesterday evening. However, Weylandt’s father, who arrived in Italy today with family members to lay flowers at the site of yesterday’s tragic accident, is said to have asked them to continue to ride in order to honour his son’s memory.
However, in what must have been an agonising decision to take, the riders have determined that they cannot continue to take part in the race following the loss of their team mate yesterday, and a statement from Leopard Trek this evening confirmed that their choice to take no further part in the race had the full support of Leopard Trek's management and staff.
General manager Brian Nygaard said: “The decision needed to be taken by the riders, because they are the ones that participate in the race. We have always said that we would stand behind their choice.”
“We wish to thank the other teams, the race organisation RCS, the Italian authorities and all the fans on the road between Genova and Livorno on today’s stage, as the peloton paid tribute to Wouter Weylandt.”
Team captain Fabian Wegmann outlined the reasons behind the decision, saying: “We have a lot of respect for the Giro d’Italia and for cycling, but we simply cannot continue racing given the circumstances. We are professional athletes, but we feel this is the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, Leopard Trek has set up a page on Facebook outlining details of a fund that has been set up to enable donations to be made to Weylandt's family. His girlfriend, Sophie, is expecting what would have been the couple's first child this September.
The choice of the Genovese suburb of Quarto dei Mille as the start of today’s stage tied in with the race’s theme of marking the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. The former fishing village had been renamed in honour of the embarkation there in 1860 of Garibaldi and his 1,000 followers.
Instead, today it was just one man who was in everyone’s thoughts as a minute’s silence preceded the stage start this morning, by coincidence a year to the day after Weylandt had won Stage 3 of the 2010 Giro in the Dutch town of Middelburg, just 50km from his home town of Ghent.
Professional cycling, of course, is not short of riders who polarise opinion, whether among fans of the sport or their colleagues in the peloton. Wouter Weylandt, however, was not one of those, with many of his fellow pros and others who knew him remarking on the cheerful disposition of someone who was popular among both the public and those who followed the same profession.
It’s often said that the Giro d’Italia unites Italy in a way that little else can, and today, as the race headed down the coast from Liguria into Tuscany, thousands upon thousands of people came out onto the streets to watch the race pass by and pay their own respects to a rider who had paid the ultimate price.
Following yesterday’s appeal by Giro director Angelo Zomegnan that the media respect Weylandt’s memory by not replaying graphic images of the aftermath of his crash, the Gazzetta dello Sport, owned like the race by RCS Media Group, unfortunately chose to use a picture showing doctors trying to revive the blood-covered cyclist.
Perhaps the decision to show that picture was made in the confusion of the story unfolding yesterday evening – on page six, the same paper praises state broadcaster RAI for cutting away from the prostrate rider as it became apparent how serious the incident was – but nevertheless, it appears an unfortunate choice of cover photo.
Elsewhere in the newspaper, the page showing the list of riders who began this year’s Giro in Saturday’s team time trial from Venaria Reale to Turin provided its own simple yet emotional reminder of yesterday’s events.
All but one of those 207 riders rode today. The one absentee, a black line struck through his name, with no further comment, was Wouter Weylandt.
Tomorrow, he will be joined by his eight team mates and best friend in the peloton.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.