On Monday, I came home from the start of the third stage of the Giro d'Italia with the intent of posting a Thursday Thirteen consisting of photos I'd taken that afternoon. I was so excited to have gotten what I knew were wonderful photos - and my excitement grew when I got home and saw just how good some of them actually were.
I called my mother to thank her for the camera she'd given me. I called my husband to share my joy at having had the experience of my first-ever stage race start event. I shared my happiness on Facebook and Twitter.
And then I sat down to watch the race.
Roughly 24 kilometers or so from the finish everything changed. A rider crashed on the descent of the Passo del Bocco, heading toward the finish at Rapallo. Hardly surprising - it was a rather tricky descent, and riders crash all the time under such circumstances.
I saw the live video on RAI, when they showed the rider being tended to. A heavy sickness settled in my stomach when I saw the boy was from my favorite team, Leopard Trek.
The fact I couldn't recognize his face was disturbing. The sense of "knowing" was worse still.
As the race continued, it quickly became clear just how bad this crash was. When they said his name, I started crying. That wasn't his face I'd seen. He wasn't there anymore.
I kept hoping. I kept praying he'd be okay, that they'd airlift him and he'd go to the hospital and someone, somewhere, would do whatever it took to put things right again.
But I knew better. Even before the director of the RAI broadcast shared the news long after the program was supposed to end, I, like so many others, already knew we'd lost one of "our boys".
Wouter Weylandt was only 26 years old. He has a baby on the way. His family has to deal with their loss - so sudden, so unexpected - but I hope they will find some comfort in his child, and I hope they know that his fans are thinking of them at this time, too.
A friend of mine said she felt as though the son of a friend had died. I think she captured perfectly the way so many of us feel. His loss isn't ours, and yet, it is. We will miss the young man we cheered for, pulled for and wished great things for. We didn't know him, but we mourn his loss and we celebrate his life.
Yesterday, the race stage was neutralized. No-one won or lost and the standings didn't change. Wouter's teammates crossed the line together, embracing and carrying along with them a member of another team: Wouter's best friend, Tyler Farrar. They wept, openly and without shame, and countless riders in the peloton wept, too.
It was, quite simply, one of the most moving events I have ever witnessed.
Today, Tyler and the Leopard Trek team have left the Giro. They will all go home to grieve and recover - at least a little - from the loss of their friend and teammate. They will ride again - they have to - because it is more than their job; it is their calling, their passion. But for now, the Giro continues without them. The show goes on. Life goes on.
For all my joking and silliness, I hold a deep and abiding affection for these young men who truly do risk themselves every day in a sport which, for all its faults, is still beautiful and frequently amazing to watch. They inspire me every single day, when I watch them race and achieve the things which I never could do in a lifetime.
Tragically, for some of them, a lifetime is all-too-brief a moment.
Author. Happily Married. Survivor of life with a deranged kitten.
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