The Thin Edge of Danger
May 11, 2011 4:49 AM   Subscribe

26 year old Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt crashed and died on a 60mph descent on stage three of this year's Giro D'Italia. The teams paid tribute the following day.

Despite the arduous nature of the climbs and breakneck speeds of descent, deaths in cycling's three grand tours are mercifully rare but include Orfeo Ponsin (1952), Juan Manuel (1976) and Emilio Ravasio (1986) in the Giro and Fransisco Cepeda (1935) and 1992 Olympic champion Fabio Casartelli (1995) in the Tour de France. The list of deaths in other races is long, if less remembered. During the 2003 Paris-Nice "race to the sun", Kazakhstan's Andrei Kivilev died after falling and hitting his head on a straight section of road. His death prompted the UCI to mandate the use of hard helmets in all competitions, except for the last part of a race with an uphill finish. Subsequently, the rule was changed to require helmets at all times. Inevitably it will be observed that cyclists have died and continue to die from other causes too.
posted by joannemullen (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This was terrible news. I wish I could unsee the images of him on the ground.
posted by chinston at 4:59 AM on May 11, 2011

The crash pictures which are all over the internet seem to indicate that although he was wearing a helmet, he hit the ground with his forehead more or less.

I've mountainbiked a lot of scary places (the last couple of miles of Porcupine Rim will get your attention) but a fast descent on a road bike is ten times scarier to me. Your riding position is so much less stable and your chances of rescuing a bad situation are non-existent. All it takes it, literally, a pebble or a patch of gravel.
posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on May 11, 2011

Always sad to see someone die in cycle racing. I don't know why, but it always reminds me of the scenes after a horse has fallen badly at a Grand National fence.

Anyway, I went into a very high end bike shop yesterday and the salesperson turned out to be a former pro cyclist who raced for a good European team in the nineties as a domestique.

One of the things he said was that he quit when it became abundantly clear that he couldn't carry and compete on unless he took drugs to enhance his performance. It surprised me at how unsurprising he found this.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:23 AM on May 11, 2011

Exactly what took place? I see some low quality video of people standing around, and read who crashed. The details of the crash itself are the most useful information to be gotten, and it seems missing.
posted by Goofyy at 5:27 AM on May 11, 2011

Some details.
Published reports say that Weylandt was riding by himself near the bottom of a technical descent down the Passo del Bocco with about 25 kilometers left. He had been dropped by a group and was in front of another chase group.

RadioShack rider Manuel Cardoso witnessed the accident, and VeloNews correspondent Andrew Hood received an e-mail from team press officer Philippe Maertens that gave Cardoso's description of the crash: "Wouter was dropped and tried to come back to the group. (Weylandt) then looked behind to see if he would be better to wait for other dropped riders (some 20). While looking behind, he hit with his left pedal or the left side of his handlebars on a small wall and was catapulted to the other side of the road when he hit again something. It must have been terrible."
posted by unSane at 5:32 AM on May 11, 2011

One of the things he said was that he quit when it became abundantly clear that he couldn't carry and compete on unless he took drugs to enhance his performance.

I've heard this from other people. Like you say, it's seen as unremarkable.
posted by unSane at 5:34 AM on May 11, 2011

posted by lapolla at 5:38 AM on May 11, 2011

This report from VeloNews has more details about what may have happened. Not what you would normally call a "technical" descent, though I guess at 60+ mph, they are all technical.
posted by chinston at 5:40 AM on May 11, 2011

Yes, this was very sad to see.
posted by OmieWise at 5:51 AM on May 11, 2011

posted by valdesm at 5:54 AM on May 11, 2011

I tried to write this post a few times yesterday, but it was kind of hard. I watched it happen, stayed glued to Twitter for more information on Weylandt's condition.

Weylandt won stage 3 of the 2010 Giro - a career highlight victory - and died on Stage 3 of the 2011 Giro. He wasn't even planning to race the 2011 Giro, but a teammate broke a collarbone a few weeks ago and opened up a spot for him.

The race the day after his death, Stage 4, was neutralized by the racers to pay their respects, and they rode to the finish in procession. Weylandt's team rode at the front, side by side, and they were joined by his good friend Tyler Farrar. Several of them were crying as they rode in formation across the finish line.

It was all very moving.
posted by entropone at 6:00 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yesterday's tribute stage was incredibly moving. The route was lined with fans, either applauding the peloton or standing in silence. Others held up the number 108, which was his race number.

At the end, Weylandt's team-mates were allowed to go ahead of the peloton and cross the line together. They were accompanied by Tyler Farrar, the American rider who was Weylandt's best friend.

Cycling is a sport with many problems, but to see such a tribute to a fallen rider was incredibly emotional.
posted by afx237vi at 6:03 AM on May 11, 2011

The crash pictures which are all over the internet seem to indicate that although he was wearing a helmet, he hit the ground with his forehead more or less.

The standards for bike helmets generally assume a crash speed of less than 15 MPH. Maybe the high end ones have attendant higher standards, but at the speed Weylandt was going, a helmet is more an aerodynamic, rather than safety, accessory.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:03 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Panjandrum, I don't see anything in your Snell link from 1998 about crash speeds.
posted by entropone at 6:14 AM on May 11, 2011

Wait, nevermind. Two links and I only clicked one.
posted by entropone at 6:14 AM on May 11, 2011

Aaaaand, commenting again, because Panjandrum, I found that your comment is misleading.

* Note that KPH and MPH relate primarily to the speed of the helmet hitting the pavement, not to the forward speed of the bicycle or rider, unless the rider hits a concrete abutment. The typical bicycle crash impact occurs at a force level equating to about 1 meter (3 feet) of drop, or a falling speed of 10 MPH. The rider's forward speed before the crash may be considerably higher, but the speed of the head moving toward the ground, plus a component of the forward speed, less any energy "scrubbed off" in other ways, normally average about 10 MPH.

You were implying, whether intentionally or not, that Weylandt's helmet was useless. But people crash often without dying at high speed, pros, amateurs, and enthusiasts. His was a sad, freak accident that involved a rock cliff by the side of the road.
posted by entropone at 6:17 AM on May 11, 2011

posted by schmod at 6:44 AM on May 11, 2011

Just to clarify, he was going 60 kph, not mph, when he hit that wall. That was the speed at which he was catapulted off the 20 meter drop. It will take more than a taiwanese reconstruction to figure out just how that translated to an impact on his head and how his helmet mitigated the collision.
posted by jmgorman at 6:54 AM on May 11, 2011

No, he didn't go over a drop - he flew through the air 20m down the road. Velonews' Andrew Hood takes a look at the site of the crash.
posted by entropone at 7:07 AM on May 11, 2011

Thanks for this. I was trying to compose an FPP in my head in the shower this morning, and just couldn't. My boyfriend is a cyclist, as are quite a few of my best friends, and this has just really hit home for me. I've sat at my computer for a good part of the past two days, reading whatever I could about the crash. Tyler Farrar's statement had me in tears. Last night I sat on my couch with a friend who just got back from biking from Pittsburgh to Washington DC and we watched this video (alternate, non-Universal Sports link) of the final part of yesterday's stage and cried some more. It's just heartbreaking.

posted by alynnk at 7:12 AM on May 11, 2011

The idea that the crash happened at 60 kph, not 60 mph, makes it a lot scarier to me. I've never approached 60 mph, but I've certainly ridden at 60 kph (about 37 mph) before. That is really not that fast for a road cyclist on a descent, and it's a speed that any recreational road rider will probably have done. It's still really fast, though, and I can't even imagine clipping a pedal at that speed.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2011

His girlfriend is due with their child in September. Leopard-Trek has setup a fund to help support his family.

Fund Information
posted by cmfletcher at 7:43 AM on May 11, 2011

Weilandt's team, Leopard-Trek, has withdrawn from the race. As far as I know, this is an unprecedented gesture. Death during a race is pretty unusual in cycling. But I've never heard of an entire team withdrawing in mourning.

One of the sobering aspects of this is that pretty much anyone who rides a road bike has gone faster than Wouter was going when he crashed. So we're all reminded of our own fragility as we mourn his death.
posted by richyoung at 8:15 AM on May 11, 2011

Thanks for clarifying, entropone, I was under the impression he had fallen over a wall or off an edge to a lower roadway, perhaps a switchback. That it was basically over the handlebars -- as Mitrovarr says, that's common enough for anyone. It's how I got hurt two years ago when I was on a downhill and hit a dark curb where I expected a concrete ramp (curb cut). I didn't hit my head, just became sort of entangled with my bike frame, and was able to walk afterward -- but I still have evidence of the road rash.

posted by dhartung at 8:18 AM on May 11, 2011

Death during a race is pretty unusual in cycling. But I've never heard of an entire team withdrawing in mourning.

Team Sky withdrew from the Vuelta last year when their soigneur passed away. When you consider the closeness of the relationship between soigneurs and pro cyclists, I think it's probably the equivalent of a team-mate dying.
posted by afx237vi at 8:41 AM on May 11, 2011

I've been following the race and will be interested to see whether there is a discernible change in the way any of the riders approach the descents in some of the upcoming stages. Some of those roads can be in pretty sketchy shape, and even though they are pros and will probably be able to put it out of their minds, it will be interesting to observe.

posted by OHenryPacey at 8:59 AM on May 11, 2011

My apologies entropone, I wasn't trying to mislead anyone. I was simply trying to note that (as the Snell standards state on page 24, section E4.3) bike helmet impact tests are all done between 65-110 joules of force, since that is what the average crash entails. I was trying to point out that, at this elite level of cycling, the forces involved are far far beyond what the average cyclist typically encounters (like Mitovarr, I've approached 40 MPH on a bike, and it is terrifying). There's actually a brief article on the BHSI site that touches on these kinds of high speed crashes.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2011

I saw the crash while watching a broadcast of the Giro, and as soon as the helicopter camera passed over and I saw the medics doing chest compressions, I knew he probably wouldn't make it. It is my understanding that he went in face first, in a way that his helmet offerend almost no protection, and hard enough to kill him pretty much instantly. This was a terrible day for cycling, and an even worse one for his family and friends.

Wouter Weylandt's death reminds all of us who cycle (competitively or non-) just how close we can come to death sometimes. A simple error, a moment of distraction on our part, or on the part of someone else, and that's it. Seeing Leopard-Trek and Tyler Ferrar cross the line together yesterday really reminded me of this.

A couple of years ago, Bikesnob NYC offered some thoughts on cycling and death, which I think are relevant at this time.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:00 PM on May 11, 2011

As a point of anecdata, I have gotten myself in serious trouble at well under 20km/h, putting myself in hospital with severe concussion and serious memory issues. On a flat road with a helmet on. I'm an experienced rider, but we are all so vulnerable. It is so so easy to do.

posted by deadwax at 2:19 PM on May 11, 2011

OHenryPacey: I've been following the race and will be interested to see whether there is a discernible change in the way any of the riders approach the descents in some of the upcoming stages.

Having seen today's stage, I think the riders are very much back in race mode. It was a tough route, and most of them were going full tilt on the descents, including a couple who overcooked it and crashed (one heart-in-mouth moment with a young Rabobank guy, but he's OK).
posted by afx237vi at 2:34 PM on May 11, 2011

Another thank you for making this. I had thought about how I would make an FPP about this, perhaps going into the traditions and honour of cycling, but couldn't quite bring myself to do so. Thankfully I missed the crash, but like everyone else, I've been glued to news about him, and watched yesterdays stage more or less in tears.

I'm relatively new to cycling, and to following pro-cycling, but I love it desperately, and yesterday was part of that love. The idea that the people are, ultimately, more important than the competition is so wonderful. The idea that you take a day and you simply ride, because we all do this out of love of riding, is a powerful and beautiful epitaph. Pro-cycling has its problems, definitely, but enough of the old ways remain that there's a distinct beauty to it all, even in the saddest of times.
posted by kalimac at 3:55 PM on May 11, 2011

Thanks JM for this FPP. I've been watching the Giro stages timeshifted every morning -- Tivo'd from Universal Sports which is free OTA here in Atlanta. But this incident obviously made it to the major news sites so I new what I was in for.

One of the first camera shots they had of the scene was quite close up and gruesome, and I'm afraid that view will be with me forever. They did not repeat that camera shot later. I imagine it's among the photos I hear are circulating -- I choose not to look out of respect.

Yesterday's tribute stage and finish was heartbreaking.

posted by intermod at 7:31 PM on May 11, 2011

> looked behind

mirrors, people. the dorkiest, cheapest best risk reducer you can buy. Skate style helmets that don't lie to you about fit with occipital lobe-grabbers might help too.

posted by morganw at 9:50 PM on May 11, 2011

posted by dgran at 8:57 AM on May 12, 2011

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