Cycling: Belgian rider Weylandt dies in high-speed crash in Giro


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The Giro d'Italia is in mourning today after Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt crashed badly on a dangerous descent yesterday and died later of his injuries. He is the first rider to die in a major Tour since Fabio Casartelli in the 1995 Tour de France .

"I saw him lying on the ground," Garmin-Cervélo team manager Bingen Fernandez told The Independent, "and you could see right away that it was extremely serious. The weird thing was it wasn't on a corner, it was on a straightaway. But the descent was extremely technical and anything could have happened."

The first television viewers saw of the tragedy was the heavily bleeding 26-year-old lying on the ground as doctors struggled to cut away his helmet strap.

A helicopter ambulance battled to get through but the dense woodland and twisting road on the descent made it very difficult to reach the scene of the accident.

Race doctors gave Weylandt cardiac massage as they waited, but his massive upper body injuries meant he had died before the helicopter – after finally picking him up – reached the hospital.

Weylandt was a mid-level rider and a good sprinter who had taken two stages in Grand Tours, one in the Tour of Spain in 2008 and another last year in the Tour of Italy. The Belgian was the father of a young child, born last September.

Britain's David Millar took the overall lead almost by chance, but the Scot was in no mood for post-stage celebrations – cancelled in any case – and received the leader's pink jersey as he was waiting in the anti-doping control tent.

"It's a terrible thing, I can't imagine what his family are feeling," Millar said. "I hope it reminds people of what a crazy sport we have, going down a hill at 55mph just in lycra and with no padding." Although the peloton slowed visibly after the accident, Millar knew nothing of it until later, saying: "I found out when somebody told me at the finish line."

Millar expressed deep concern for his American and Garmin-Cervélo team-mate Tyler Farrar, who lives in Ghent, Belgium and is a good friend to the Belgian rider. "He was very close to Wouter, it's almost like he was one of his brothers. Tyler is a very emotional guy and it is going to be very tough for him."

The Scot also appealed that in the midst of ongoing scandals in the sport and a prolonged, high-profile dispute over race radios, "This kind of accident should remind us all what cycling is about."

"We should forget the bullshit. We get a lot of flak for a lot of things but this [riding in difficult conditions] is what we do every single day. These are the risks we have to take."

Millar did try on the leader's jersey, but in the most informal of fashions, when "somebody turned up at anti-doping, handed it over and I tried it for size".

He did not reveal whether he would wear it in today's stage, although there is a tradition that after a death in cycling – as happened with Casartelli in the 1995 Tour – the next stage is cancelled or ridden at funeral pace.

"It's not really important right now. Matt Rabin [a team official] gave it to me, I tried it on and took it off and that was it. That moment just summed up the day."

Although injuries are frequent in cycling, deaths are far from common. Weylandt's is the first in a road-race since Kazakh Andrei Kivilev died of head injuries in the 2003 Paris-Nice and the first in a major Tour since Casartelli in 1995.

Casartelli's death indirectly led to helmets being made compulsory for riders, but in this case not even a helmet could save Weylandt's life.