Triumph and Tragedy

Wouter Weylandt, 27 September 1984 - 9 May 2011 (Photo Sirotti)

Balance. It can be achieved by never deviating from the middle, or it can be achieved by violent swings to and fro. It is said, however, that the great peaks can’t be reached without crossing through deep valleys. Tragically, we were reminded today that our sport is one of great peaks and deep, deep valleys.

Cycling is a sport of risk and danger; the beauty and harmony of a speeding peloton masks the risks and dangers involved. Mountain descents see riders reach speeds of 80 or more kilometers per hour with little to protect them should something go wrong. Stars and watercarriers alike share in the risk; no one is immune.

You have to love this sport intensely to become a professional. The nature of road competition demands great sacrifice in every aspect of the athlete’s life; eat like birds, work like horses, and live like monks. Not only does a professional cyclist spend every waking moment focussed on their sport, but from January to October, they are away from their families as the race calendar carries them all over Europe and, increasingly, the world. This sacrifice is most often in the service of others, as the Stars are few and the Watercarriers many.

While only a few weeks ago we watched as one of these domestiques reached the pinacle of our sport by winning Paris-Roubaix, today we witnessed the tragic swing to the other end as Wouter Weylandt lost his life in the pursuit of his passion. We can be philosophical and say this man lived for his sport and died doing what he loved, but the fact of the matter is that his is a man who, at 26 years old, was in the prime of his life and that he died today is tragic beyond articulation.

As Velominati, we are disciples of cycling. Our lives revolve around cycling. At moments like these, it is unimaginable that life and sport will continue. It will, and we will again reach the peaks. But we breathe still, and our devotion cannot follow where others’ continue.

Today we walk through a valley and mourn as Velominati the tragic loss of a man who gave everything – everything – to his sport. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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131 Replies to “Triumph and Tragedy”

  1. @Steampunk
    Beautiful entry on your blog. Thank you for sharing.

    I, too, am a father. I think about this everytime I ride. I’ve stopped myself from saying and doing pretty risky things because I have her in my life, and I don’t want to leave right now. I want to stick around and see how things turn out for her. I want to help her find her path and see her journey.

    The other side of the coin is, my daughter rides and jumps horses. It’s just as dangerous, and exhilarating, as bike racing. Because of my cycling experiences, I’ve only had a slight sense of trepidation for her safety. But I know the worst can happen. I know something less than the worst is guaranteed to happen.

    However, as a child, I think she’s blissfully unaware. I love that quality in children. I wish I could get some of it back.

    My point? I’m not sure. I do know that, when I see my daughter tonight, I’m going to give her a big ‘ol squeezy breathtaking full of love hug and tell her that I love her. She’ll tell me she loves me too. Then she’ll wonder, “What’s up with Dad?” And that’s awesome.

    I wish Weylandt’s child could have enjoyed the same.

  2. Same 15 years ago when I starded to ride my road bike I tried that amazing feeling on riding on the road…you could ride 60…80…100km and than later share this with your friends that most of the time couldn’t believe you could ride 100km on a bike. This lasted some 2 or 3 years. One sunday a truck hit 2 guys on the road I used to ride. That was the last time I rode there…or I can say in any big road.
    Yesterday after reading and trying to diggest all the feelings from what happenned to this guy, I was seating between my road and my mountain bike trying to remember all the moments “it could had happened the same to me”…the feeling was like “I love cycling so much! But if one day something close to what happened today happens to me…will this love be enough? Or will I repeat to myself forever how stupid I was?”. And that is life…

  3. @Steampunk
    Thank you. Beautifully expressed and, but for a few details and the fact that it was beautifully expressed, I could have written it myself. A man cut down in his prime is always sad. That he and his child will never know each other immeasurably sad. Ia went for a beautiful ride this morning with a couple of good mates – lots of hills in the crispx morning air as the city slowly awoke around us. Beautiful. I counted my blessings.

  4. Its going to be hard to watch the rest of the Giro. I may not watch it till next week. Cant imagine getting excited about the racing after what has happened.

  5. @RedRanger

    Yeah, that’s pretty much home I’m feeling. Hard to care about who is winning or losing after someone lost their life.

  6. It just dawned on me that Belgium is probably feeling that extreme swing as well after JVS, PG, and now this. As the world’s pre-eminent cylcing nation they must be rocked pretty hard.

  7. @Marko
    That occurred to me as I was writing the piece; the last thing I wanted to suggest is that Van Summeren or Phillipe (Van Summeren in particular given the contrast I was drawing of the fate of these two domestiques) were somehow responsible in set this tragic event up in a karmic sense. Not my meaning by any stretch, but Belgium most acutely represents and, I assume, feels the current swing between their great peak and this deep valley.

    Terrible, terrible, terrible.

    I think several people have done very well to articulate my feelings about this event, better so than I did in the article. Thanks to the community for helping me work through this and come to terms with it. I hope the community managed to do so for the rest of you as well.

    As terrible as this was, I think his memory is better served by us going out and being more cautious rather than taking this as some kind of sign to stop riding. He made a mistake – Pros are just as susceptible as we are to momentary lapses – with unimaginable and tragic consequences. But it was a mistake, and mistakes can ultimately be avoided. We should all take this as a reminder of how dire the consequences can be and to be extra vigilant. Not just on today’s ride, or tomorrow’s, but on every ride.

    Maintain your equipment, don’t place unfounded trust in its reliability, and pay attention at all times. In a gloves-off, down and dirty fight between a cyclist and a traffic fixture or vehicle, we will lose every time.

  8. @Steampunk


    As someone with a 2 week old daughter, these were my first thoughts as well. Holding her last night while watching the highlights on SBS, which tastefully didn’t show the tragedy at all, I was reminded of the frailty of life. The thought that my child would/could never know me or I her, brought a tide of emotions to the surface. My wife asked what was wrong as she hadn’t had a chance to watch the news all day. She too was saddened and looked at me with a worrying “may be you shouldn’t cycle”.

    As frank has quite rightly mentioned,

    “I think his memory is better served by us going out and being more cautious rather than taking this as some kind of sign to stop riding.”

    I have been extremely touched by the genuine concern and thoughts being expressed by this community. This site continually amazes me. Grazie mille

  9. Right on, Frank. Aside from the many, many thoughts I’ve had, the main one has been, Okay, it can happen to the BEST cyclists, so make sure you are careful at all times. You can’t control everything, but this is a reminder to be a little bit extra cautious. Pay Attention At All Times, for sure.

    I went out for 60 k today and was “back to racing.” Not in the sense that I’d gotten over this at all, but in the sense that I’m still going to ride my bike. Definitely set a personal best up a local hill, thinking of Wouter, thinking about how much joy I get from just being out on a bicycle & how much I need to appreciate all rides, all of life.

    I’m still so sad. I always think of myself as young (do we all?), but it pains me to know Wouter was three years younger than me and is gone forever. What a loss.

  10. frank:
    Maintain your equipment, don’t place unfounded trust in its reliability, and pay attention at all times. In a gloves-off, down and dirty fight between a cyclist and a traffic fixture or vehicle, we will lose every time.

    After I heard about the crash, I went to the bike shop that night to ask about a couple creaks I’d been hearing around the headset area and around the seatpost. I had checked for cracks and simple dirty bits to no avail. Fortunately, they were trivial and require a touch of cleaning and grease. My two primary rule violations are in the name of staying mortal for a bit longer. I’ll take the occasionally questioning glances from other roadies, and then I’ll ride them off my wheel.

  11. Oli, ha, I know, I know…this event really has gotten me down.

    But, holy cannoli! Today’s stage is exactly what we need! Dust, dirt, climbing, slide outs. The timing of it is perfect, couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the racing again.

    Alright, I’ll try to make this my last post, Oli:)

  12. @all great article, comments, etc. thank you. A sad, sad day, but the response afterwards (no podium, no racing the next day, touching scenes by Millar in Maglia Rosa, Leopard Trek and Tyler at finish… and thought the Leopard website great), shows how great this sport is – both in the pro peloton, but also in the wider community. Proud to be a cyclist, and proud of all of you guys…. but feel for his young family.

  13. Ron:
    That visual condolence card from the team is great.
    – It shows us a smiling Wouter.
    – It expresses the true sadness his cycling club feels over his death.
    – It shows an awesome looking, happy, Belgian PRO cyclist in his prime. What a beautiful thing: a big dude in some sharp kit, with a boss hairdo, smiling like he’s on top of the world.
    I think Wouter was thinking: “Yeah, I get paid to be and look this awesome.”
    A loss to see him go. From what Farrar wrote in his open letter, Wouter sounds like a fun guy to have ridden bicycles with. A ghost in the peloton for Tyler, I’d think. Easy to miss a guy who was that awesome of a cycling pal.

    I got up real early Tuesday morning to get the overnight Giro news and was shocked and saddened like all have been across the globe. It was a tough start to the day – only made better by a solid rouleur style hit-out (into the wind) with my cycling sensei and some good mates.
    Since then the outpouring of emotion and grief has been astounding. I truly feel for Wouters family and friends.
    RIP Wouter

  14. The risks are there, though amazingly few pro cyclists die while doing what they do. So, when it happens – even more of a shock.

    I have to admit to getting a little weepy watching his team cross the line on Stage 4…

  15. Hi All, don’t know where to post this so will do it here as it seems appropriate. There is an annual event being organised, called Black Armband Sat this Sat 14 May. Wear a black armband on your rides to remember ALL those that have been killed riding bikes.

    Twitter – @blackarmbandsat #tag – #blackarmbandsat

  16. Just found this thread guys, and it brought tears back to my eyes reading it all – forgive me if posting this drags it all back up again – I don’t think I have been so upset by something in a sporting context, ever

    Maybe it is because I am new to this sport this past 6 months, but I’ve been living eating and drinking Eurosport 2 since Qatar, and with all the new folk I’ve enjoyed riding with since I started in January (exMTB, more of a yotter really)

    I was on a real high that in cycling, I had stumbled upon a rich source of joy and enlightenment in my life, prepping to go to a sailing event and sat down to watch the Giro I’d recorded, giddy like a kid with a new toy at Christmas, and bang, I saw poor Wouter on the road – as a 45 yr old Doc, I knew what I was looking at and was nearly sick – I actually felt for Dave Harmon, the commentator, and Sean Kelly who sounded like they knew what they had just witnessed

    I was so agitated about it that couldn’t sleep that night, my wife and kids were asleep, and there was no-one to talk to

    Thing is, over the following days, I felt very lonely in my distress, as nobody apart from a couple of my new cycling friends really seemed to care, and I was really upset, really confused – weird – I’d only recently got my head round what risks these guys take, partly for the joy, but also to pay the bills I guess – my respect for them is incalculable, they’re simply heroic

    I thank you all on this thread, and for your touching intro Frank, for helping me realise that I was not alone (I also realise one/we cannot expect all those who do not share our passion, to feel our pain to the same extent)

    I’ve never been one for funerals, but I have watched the neutralised stage several times, and it helped me too – as you say Frank, for life to be full, and highs attained, some pretty bad days will have to be experienced, and for Wouter and his loved ones, no greater sacrifice exists

    For what it is worth, I often think of Wouter when I am on my bike, and it gives me an extra strength, like I owe it to him to harden the fuck up, and in that I guess, his legacy lives on

    Thank you Wouter, thank you @all, and sorry if dragging this up again causes grief, but it has really helped me to know that others out there appreciated what an enormous tragedy Wouter’s passing really was

    Ride on

  17. Ah, Wouter, RIP buddy!

    Ha, I searched for eat like a bird, work like a horse, live like a monk just to confirm I had it right and guess what popped up?Awesomeness.

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