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. Woke up to read of this tragic death this morning. Such a great talent lost at such an early age. RIP Wouter…you will be much missed.

  2. Sam:
    @Jeff in PetroMetro
    i have to agree with you that it has shaken me to the point that i didn’t go out for the evening ride, it shakes us to the bone that this can happen to the pro’s and disturbs our own sense of invulnerability when out knowing that anything can happen but ignoring it

    Seen in isolation by non-cyclists, this tragedy may confirm the popular impression of cycling being undertaken by careless risk-takers. Truly the deepest insult.

    I think as sad as this event is, it is wise to remember that most people take more risk getting into their car every day and driving to work. This is the first death in a major race in many years. It seems like every few years here in my city a local high school kid dies while out playing football or track, due to injuries or undiagnosed health problems. I don’t see any reason for people to be scared of, or give up, sports for any of these reasons.

  3. @andy
    Trying to pin this on the course layout is pretty weak… While it does nothing to diminish the tragedy the fact is that it was rider error that caused this crash… He sat up and looked back as he considered joinging the approach group and just swayed into the left wall at high speed, a horrible moment of poor execution with unimaginable consequences by someone who handled a bike better than any of us could dream to.

    Rather than trying to take this as your moment on the pulpit to whine about some imagined injustice by the powers of cycling, we should all recognize that a man fell victim to a horrible moment of chance that we’re all, unfortunately, infinitely more likely to see in person than we ever ought to have been on the tele. As someone who’s left far more than my fair share of sidewall rubber on the road from overly aggressive descending, I’ll certainly be riding my bike with a new eye towards just how much is at stake from here on out. I know I’ll never handle a bike as well as Wouter did drunk and tired and I’m suddenly all too aware of just how needless and foolhardy some of the risks I’ve taken in pursuit of speed on the way down have been.

    RIP Wouter, may the road never end and the sun never set. All my thoughts and prayers to your family.

  4. Thanks Frank, RIP Wouter, and my condolences to his family and teammates.

  5. It’s good to know Zomegnan is leaving it up to the peloton as to how they want to respect Weylandt tomorrow. Good call on the part of the Giro organizers.

  6. Very sad day indeed. Deepest condolences to the family and friends, and my thoughts are with the riders and Wouter’s nearest and dearest as they go on.

  7. Thanks frank. A fitting piece. My condolences to his family, friends and team mates.

  8. @Frank – A-Merckx

    @ Troy – Agree with your sentiments

    @Ron – Nice, best way to remember someone, for the good times.

    @cyclops – I hear ya

    @everyone – Although this is a tragic death, the best way we can honour his memory is to get on our bikes (albeit difficult when you hear this news) and ride. Dedicate your next commute/group ride/race win to him. Wear a black armband. Do what you think honours him, but remember to keep riding. I don’t/didn’t know Wouter, but this is what I would have wanted the Cycling community to do for me.

    Keep doing what you love.

    @Wouter where-ever you are, may you never have to change out of the Big Ring and all your winds be tail winds. RIP. A-Merckx

  9. Thanks Frank – fitting words.
    I agree with JIPM about the coverage. The pictures were shocking and were cut straight away while the commentary was suitably respectful. When I saw the paramedics on compressions my heart sank. Its a long way back from there…

    I rode at dawn this morning and thought of Wouter all the way. But I clipped my helmet a little tighter and watched the road a little more intensely.

    The thread is so fine. Ride on…

  10. Just put in a slow, somber 30 k. Felt good to be on the bike, but I thought of nothing else but Wouter’s death the entire time.

    Also just checked VeloNews for the first time. Jeez, Farrar’s piece was really, really sad. I’ve actually thought about losing a training partner, since we all know how close we sometimes get to bad things out there. Can’t imagine how Tyler is feeling right now.

    I also think about death fairly frequently on the bike. Anytime I see road kill I say a small blessing for the departed critter & for my good luck thus far, knowing I could be that squirrel or rabbit or fox or snake very easily. From behind the windshield, I think cyclists have about as much value as those animals to many drivers. We’re all just something slowing them down.

    Keep riding everyone, but please do so as safely as possible.

    Frank – I think the valley and peaks idea is perfect. I actually read a book of daily Tao entries and one of them is about this very idea – you have to know the low spots in life to appreciate the pinnacles. Today is definitely as low as it gets.

    RIP, Wouter.

  11. Thanks, Frank. This is a good and touching piece. One of the things I really appreciate about this site, which you articulate so well above, is its implicit membership in the higher order of cycling community. We can be fans of pro racing, but there is a deeper connection here. Always informal and typically impishly playful, but cycling’s illuminati help bring the cycling world together for me and make connections that make riding and fandom all the more palpable. Sad day.

  12. And it pales in comparison to the death, but I also feel bad for Angel Vicioso. His win will forever be attached to this in his own mind and those of the tifosi.

    And David Millar, the first Brit to wear all three Grand Tour leader’s jerseys.

    A shame, but again, I realize these are tiny, tiny footnotes on the much bigger sadness of Wouter’s passing. I just got engaged and the thought of leaving my fiancee behind after getting killed on the bike is tough to think about. It’s even worse that she was pregnant.

    My thoughts go out to his partner (wife?) and family and friends.

  13. Just noticed Ale-Jet’s winning photo from yesterday, Weylandt is about two rows back between Ale-Jet and Cav.

  14. @ steampunk – Very well written, my friend.

    A lot of what goes on here is funny, silly, & jovial. And, I’ve never met any of you. But, I do feel like being a part of this site community, reveling in the races, agonizing over the tiniest details of the bikes & the gear, and following all that goes on in the peloton has brought me to a new level of appreciation & dedication to cycling.

    La Vie Velominatus during both the lows & the highs.

  15. As a father of a beautiful 2 and a half year old and two weeks out from our 2nd I was saddened and shocked by this terrible news….it is truely gut-wrenching to look at my boy and then think that Walter will never know his baby, or the baby its father. That is surely the greatest tragedy. On this terrible day it is a shocking wake-up call to us all that these things happen to guys who we couldn’t hold a candle to on our best day…sadly it is us “wannabe’s” who are often at the greatest risk on public roads with traffic. As I tell some of our younger guys, please remember, much as you can bang on about shitty car driving etc, having “But I was in the right” on your gravestone is no consolation to your friends and family. RIP Walther and our thoughts go out to his partner. Take care everybody else.

  16. @Lee
    Hopefully someone will collect all the interweb testaments to WW and preserve them for his child to read. Consolation, of a sort.

  17. 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.

  18. I went for a ride today. That’s my primary cure for the downs.

    As often, I had to start late, just after sunset. My preferred “late route” is a loop with a large curvey run along the edge of a lake just outside of town; no street lights and little habitation. Good shoulders on roads in and out and little traffic make for relatively safe night ride; though it’s dark and a little more than don’t-give-me-a-ticket lights are advisable due to, for one, small wildlife; few rides ago I sideswiped a ‘possom because I over-road my lights & didn’t see it/frighten it away. I guess.

    I’m not a goofy new age hippy type. I believe I’ve experienced an advantage of aging, that being: the older you get the less you know. I’ve come to suspect that there’s more, Horatio… I don’t know what “more” is, but we’d be fools to think that just because we have a set of senses that shows us a certain “reality,” that’s the end of the story. We used to think the world was flat.

    So this evening I’m on the lake road, outside the lights of town. Official sunset about 45 minutes ago. The narrow road is lined with tall oak trees; it took me a while to notice the sky. Purple. REALLY purple. Not lavendar or sunset pink, but glowing purple. Not dark-indigo-almost-night-blue. Purple. Even the moon was tinged. “I knew I shouldn’t have cleaned my glasses, I got something on them,” was my first thought. Remove glasses. Instant bugs in eyes. But still purple.

    Florida skies, especially sunsets, are almost always gorgeous, and vary crazily in colors, with all of the small (or large) clouds present, humidity in the air, and I don’t know what else. Never exactly the same thing twice. But this was pretty wild. Sun pretty much long gone. The light wasn’t from the city, which was ahead of me to the west, because sky was the same behind. Glowing purple. Lavendar tinged moon. Beautiful. Awesome.

    Before I ran off the road I looked down… the sky is falling! Or at least, the stars are! Oh. Fireflies! TONS of them!! This is really unusual for this part of Florida. We get them, but usually they are just twinkles here and there. I remember being up in the Chicago area, where my parents’ families are from, as a kid; tons of fireflies in the summer up there, we chased them… not like that here.

    Except tonight. I’ve never seen so many in all the years I’ve lived here. Stars falling from a purple sky. I rode through the area where the concentration of them was, it was pretty large, I dunno, 100 meters? After that still a good number twinkling along the dark road. With the purple glowing sky.

    OK, it probably doesn’t come through very well in writing, but it was fairly wondrous. Today’s sadness had been on my mind. I decided that this was a memorial. From the Universe. Why not?

    Even weirder, I was thinking about Weylandt’s wife (partner/girlfriend? seen all terms used, doesn’t matter), carrying his unborn son, almost crying for her, tears under a purple sky in a field of stars and wishes, strong strong wishes to her for peace, belief he didn’t suffer, peace, peace, peace… hail mary, full of grace Oh my god I’m saying hail mary’s. And it took me a few to realize it. I am an ex-ex-ex-ex-ex-Catholic, I mean WAY ex. Where in the hell those came from I don’t know. But turning onto the main drag off of the lake road and kicking into my standard hard push home at this point on this ride, I decided to let ’em roll, whereever they came from, the hail mary’s, breathing too hard to say out loud but rolling through my head, and they were for the people left behind… Weylandt is gone. I hope it was fast. But he doesn’t care about anything now (not to lessen in the least his sacrifice)… the people he left behind are the sufferers now.

    Ride on. It’s what we do. Including non-cyclists.

    Peace be with you. All.

  19. Tragedies like this remind me that there are many people who will walk out their front door this morning or any morning and never return.

    Most people are lucky enough to work in occupations where death is not a considered risk, but all of us depend on people who have a shadow of death ever present… construction workers, miners, farmers, police, even journalists, as I know from personal experience.

    I say this not to diminish the tragedy of Wouter Weylandt’s death and the devastating effect on his family and friends, but in the spirit of ‘for whom the bell tolls’.

    Yes it’s annoying that the media only covers cycling when there is a scandal but there’ll be a host of other deaths today that won’t even rate a mention. They won’t be people doing something they loved either, they’ll be average people who were doing it because that was the best job they could get to provide for their family.

    So spare a thought for Wouter Weylandt as we should, but share a part of that thought or prayer with those ‘others’ who every day will pass unremarked but leave just as big a gap in people’s hearts.

  20. To the top of the mountain we say “ride strong”, WW

    To the finish line we say “ride long”, WW

    From our hearts we say “ride on”, WW

    RIP, mate, tailwinds all the way…

  21. It’s worth to add also the words of Tyler Farrar on Weylandt

    From CyclingNews:

    Tyler Farrar made a poignant statement on Monday evening:

    “I am unbearably saddened by the loss of Wouter today. As many know, he was my friend, training partner, and in many ways, another brother to me. His death marks and irreparable change in my life but more importantly, in the lives of his family and most loved.

    “Wouter was one of the kindest, funniest, and most admirable people I have ever had the opportunity to know and his death is a tragedy to his family, his friends, and to the sport as a whole.

    “I can only convey my deepest of sympathies to everyone who cared about him as deeply as I did, especially his family, his friends, his team and his fans – we celebrate his life and morn his death in equal measure.

    “Wouter was and is the soul of this sport we all love – an athlete who sacrificed himself for the better of many and a champion who celebrated each glory as a victory for his family, his team, and his friends and fans.

    “I will remember him always, and will always strive to do him proud, as he has always done for the sport and people he loves.”

  22. @Karolinka

    I guess that is the thing that has struck me most about this incident is his pregnant girlfriend. I can’t even comprehend what she must be feeling right now. Maybe the fact that she has a part of him gestating in her womb will help console her. I don’t know.

  23. Woah, I didn’t realize that Wouter won Stage 3 last year at the Giro. Very strange coincidence. Or, if you think things work in bigger ways, I guess his time here was up & he was slated to move on.

    Watching this morning & seeing the racers, hearing the interviews, and watching on Eurosport is helping, a bit, but still pretty upset by Wouter’s death.

    – I thought Farrar’s open letter was really heartfelt & poignant. He’s going home after the stage today.

  24. Watching today’s stage is really hard. I can’t imagine how painful it is for the guys on Leopard.

  25. We all know when on the bicycle, that the line between safety and mortal danger can be crossed very easily in a split second. That line also moves, many times before we even realize it. As I rode home from work yesterday, with that day’s tragic events weighing on my mind, I was reminded yet again about this fact.

    My trip home is from Midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn (via Manhattan bridge). As I rode through a yellow light on a bike lane on 2nd avenue southbound to wait for the red light at Houston St. I heard someone yelling “cyclist! biker!” over my left shoulder. That person was a passenger in a 3 ton SUV yelling at the driver to not run me over. I realized this as I looked left to see said SUV rapidly turning into my path of travel. If not for that passenger, I might have wound up underneath the vehicle’s right rear tire.

    I had a flash of anger, but then just felt relief. This kind of thing has been happening too often for my liking, but I still ride. I didn’t yell at anyone but simply shook my head as I rode around the SUV to get back into the bike lane. Afterward I realized that if I went through the yellow light, then this driver must have gone through the light when it turned red, then turned hard right to get into the right turn lane for Houston St.

    As I’m sure most of you are aware, New York has been having a ‘crackdown’ on cyclists ‘running’ red lights. The fact remains thought that cyclists aren’t killed when they go through a red light, especially when looking carefully first, they’re killed when vehicles go through red lights, or speed, or turn without signaling or open a door into traffic without looking first. Sadly, most of the time, they’re not held responsible either.

    Be safe everyone.

  26. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    For certain. That said, and please don’t take this as irreverence, it’s probably the only stage in a grand tour ever that I could physically ride and keep up with as I read somewhere they’ll be averaging 37-40 kph.

  27. @Marko
    No offense. Still, these guys look so comfortable at that pace. I’d have to not talk, stay focused, and hope I wouldn’t bonk after a 100km. That seems to be my outside limit these days since I don’t get in too many long rides.

  28. Yesterday I was kind of in shock. Today the sadness that none of his friends, family, or teammates will ever get to see him again is setting in.

    Very sad day of cycling, tough to watch that final 5 k.

  29. @Marko

    Yeah, it’s amazing that their “relaxed pace” for the tribute ride is a speed that I can only hang out at for a limited time, let alone like 250 km.

    I haven’t had time for a ride since last Thursday, so I’m excited to get back on the saddle tonight… I will certainly be thinking about Weylandt along the way.

  30. Steampunk – very nice! I enjoyed reading that.

    I’ve recently undergone a pretty big shift in my life as well, when I got engaged to my VHM of 3.5 years. Children are definitely in our future, so it was nice to read what you wrote.

    Interesting to consider the idea of why we ride. Yeah, I have nothing to escape either! Sometimes my days can be stressful, but I pretty much lead a charmed life. Good family, good friends, wonderful fiancee, health, happiness, money in the bank, a decent career ahead of me shortly (I hope!), and way more bikes than I deserve.

    Thanks for the link to that.

    Wouter’s passing really was one of those moments that gave me pause, forced me to reflect on my life & what I have, and hopefully move forward a bit more thankful & thoughtful. Your article helped as well.

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