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HORSENS, Denmark (VN) – It was an emotional start to stage 3 at the Giro d’Italia Monday as the peloton paid its respects to Wouter Weylandt, who died during the race’s third stage almost one year ago.
Weylandt died on impact in stage 3 of last year’s Giro on May 9 after clipping a stone barrier and catapulting onto the road while descending the Passo del Bocco. He was 26.
The death and memory of the popular Belgian rippled through the peloton as the riders lined up Monday in a special ceremony to honor his memory.
“There are no words to explain what happened last year,” Fränk Schleck, Weylandt’s Leopard-Trek teammate last year, told VeloNews. “He was a great teammate and a great friend. That’s how I prefer to remember him.”
Schleck and members of the RadioShack-Nissan team lined up at the front of the peloton Monday morning at the start line. The peloton held a moment of silence for Weylandt, who won stage 3 in the 2010 Giro.
Joining the RadioShack riders was Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), who told VeloNews that he preferred not to speak publicly about the incident.
Farrar was one of Weylandt’s closest friends and the pair trained and socialized together in Gent, Belgium, Weylandt’s hometown where Farrar has set up his European base.
Last year, Farrar joined the Leopard-Trek team at the front of the race as the next day’s stage was neutralized in honor of Weylandt. Farrar crossed the line in tears last year and abandoned the Giro. Farrar later paid tribute to Weylandt when he won a stage at the Tour de France.
Speaking to VeloNews in an earlier interview, Farrar admitted he struggled to come to terms with the Weylandt tragedy.
“I’ve never had to deal with something like that before, losing a friend, it’s fairly traumatic,” he said. “Bad things do happen to good people. You just have to try to deal with it and try to move on. I’ve certainly not forgotten, but I am trying to move forward.”
Weylandt’s family and girlfriend joined Giro director Michele Aquarone before the start on Monday. His girlfriend, An-Sophie, gave birth to Weylandt’s daughter in September.
In another macabre twist, the race also paid homage to the mayor of Horsens, who died of a heart attack Sunday, just a day before the race started in his city.
A highlight reel with Weylandt’s best performances was broadcast on big-screen TVs near the start and a photograph of Weylandt was lifted into the sky attached to three balloons.
“I prefer to remember him from the victory he won in the 2010 Giro,” Aquarone told VeloNews. “This was very hard for the Giro. It was important to pay respect to him and his family.”
Riders reacted solemnly to the morning’s activity. The danger of a bad crash hangs over their heads every day they toe up to the line.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), another close friend of Weylandt, said professionals can not dwell on the dangers of their sport.
“This is a dangerous sport, but the moment you hit the brakes, you will not win a bike race,” De Gendt told VeloNews. “I know sometimes we are a little crazy, but it is something we have to live with. Yesterday we went into the final corner of the sprint at 70kph. Something bad can happen at any moment. We cannot think about it. We can only race.”
Weylandt was the fourth racing fatality in Giro history.