Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt’s death following a high-speed crash during the third stage of the Giro d’Italia has left widespread sorrow in the cycling world, but has also raised questions over safety issues.
An official inquiry has been launched to determine what caused the accident which occurred while the 26-year-old Weylandt was descending from the Passo del Bocco – the first of two climbs during the mostly flat 173-kilometre-stage from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo.
According to Italian media, one witness report came from Portuguese rider Manuel Cardoso, who was following closely behind the unfortunate Weylandt.
Just before taking a corner, Weylandt, a sprinter who in a sad twist won the third stage of last year’s Giro, turned his head in an apparent attempt to check on the position of his Leopard Trek teammates.
In an instant his bicycle first struck a guardrail and then a wall leaving the front wheel jammed sideways. Weylandt was catapulted head-first onto the road.
“I think I arrived on the scene some 20-30 seconds after the fall,” race doctor, Giovanni Tredici said.
His car had been following the pack of riders including Weylandt who at 25 kilometres from the finish line, were chasing a small group of breakaway leaders.
“The situation was very serious, with no possibility for resuscitation,” Tredici told Turin newspaper Tuttosport.
Race officials have stressed that while an ambulance van reached the scene within a minute and a half from where the crash took place, due to the extent of the injuries, including a deep skull fracture, Weylandt could not be moved from where he was lying on the road.
A helicopter ambulance was also dispatched, but by the time it arrived, some 45 minutes later, Weylandt was dead, a fact which has prompted some criticism.
Gianni Bugno, a former World Road Racing Champion cyclist-turned helicopter pilot who often flies television crews covering races – said that the hilly and tree-lined Ligurian landscape where Monday’s stage was taking place made it difficult for pilots to find an adequate landing space.
“The helicopter intervened in time and could have quickly taken Wouter to a hospital. Unfortunately he was already dead,” Bugno told Rome-based daily Corriere dello Sport Questions remain on whether race itineraries should be designed so as to allow easier access by rescuers in the event of accidents.
Another debate centres on the safety of equipment used or worn by cyclists.
Weylandt is the fourth racer to die in the annually held Giro d’Italia which this year marks its 94th edition.
In Italy his death has drawn comparisons with that of Fabio Casartelli, an Olympic gold medallist who died aged 24 after suffering head injuries in a crash during the 1995 Tour de France.
Unlike Weylandt, Casartelli was not wearing a helmet – protective headgear was only made compulsory following the death of Kazakhstan rider Andrei Kivilev during the 2003 Paris-Nice.
Francesco Moser, the 1984 Giro winner, said cycling as a road sport is by definition dangerous, and that there is a limit to precautions that can be taken by riders.
He also noted, in an interview with the La Repubblica newspaper, how during Monday’s stage five other riders also fell without serious consequences.
For Moser the problem lies elsewhere, with organizers.
“There are too many riders, all of whom trying to hold position up in the front,” Moser said, before proposed some drastic solutions.
Once could be halving the number of riders – over 200 are participating in this year’s Giro.
The other is to hold races on roads that require no barriers such as walls or guardrails, but which, he admitted, would exclude some of the most breathtaking and exciting routes.