Monday, 16 May 2011

Tragedy at the Giro d'Italia....

Whatever the outcome of the Giro d'Italia, be it victory for Alberto Contador or anything else, the race will be remembered for an incident that has convulsed professional cycling: the death of the Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt. He crashed heavily on the descent from Passo del Bocco, lost a large volume of blood and never regained consciousness.

As with coal miners and fishermen, life on the professional cycling circuit is one of shared and mutually appreciated danger. Riders know that what happened to Weylandt could have happened to any one of their number. The risks he took were routine, taken by a rider who was very much one of the pack.

Weylandt was a journeyman professional, 26 years old, faster than average with a number of sprint wins to his credit, and this was an everyday descent – technical admittedly, but no worse than many others – on a routine stage. That explains in part the expressions of dismay and grief from his fellows and from cycling fans.

The same feelings were present at the last death of a cyclist in one of the major Tours, the fatal accident to Fabio Casartelli in the 1995 Tour de France.

Professional cyclists risk their lives in every single metre of the course said Scot David Millar who added that Wouter's death "shows what cycling is about. It's pretty extreme. There's no point even dedicating anything to Wouter, because it doesn't even come close to making up for what has happened. The bottom line is that the guys here are the best cyclists in the world, and the best guys in the world can have a mechanical fault or find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Life-threatening accidents occur frequently in the professional peleton, such as the 2009 Giro crash in which the Spaniard Pedro Horrillo fell 60 metres into a ravine, after which he had to be put into an induced coma. The riders staged a go-slow in protest after that event and something similar happened after a spate of crashes on a descent in the Ardennes during the 2010 Tour de France.

Casartelli's death led to a debate around helmet use in cycling that had no immediate outcome and it took a further death, that of the Kazakh Andrei Kivilev in the 2003 Paris-Nice before their use became compulsory. It is the second time in recent years that Belgium has been hit, following the death of the Spaniard Isaac Gálvez in the Ghent Six-Day track race in 2006. Those incidents came after the helmet rule came in and serve as a tragic reminder that, no matter what precautions are taken, cycling remains a sport of risk and its practitioners, amateur and professional, ride in the full knowledge of that fact.

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