Belgian killed in race

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MILAN --- Hurtling down an Italian mountain pass at a speed only a car would normally reach, Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt lost control of his bike for a split second. In a sport where the smallest mistake can have catastrophic consequences, it proved lethal.

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Giro d'Italia competitor Wouter Weylandt was outside a pack going 40 to 50 mph downhill when he clipped a wall and lost control of his bicycle. He was 26.   Associated Press/File
Associated Press/File
Giro d'Italia competitor Wouter Weylandt was outside a pack going 40 to 50 mph downhill when he clipped a wall and lost control of his bicycle. He was 26.

Weylandt tumbled to his death Monday in a downhill crash during the third stage of the Giro d'Italia, with the riders going 40 to 50 mph at the time. It was the first fatality at the Italian race in 25 years and the first at one of the sport's showcase tours in 16 years.

"Our sport is very tragic at times. It has been throughout its history," said British rider David Millar, who took the pink jersey as race leader after Monday's stage but said it now meant "nothing."

"The bottom line is that the guys here are the best cyclists in the world, and the best guys in the world can have a mechanical fault or find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time," Millar said.

The crash on the Passo del Bocco was not broadcast live, but images showed paramedics frantically trying to revive Weylandt, who was sprawled on his back on the road, bleeding heavily from the face and head.

Portuguese rider Manuel Cardoso, who saw the accident, said Weylandt slammed into a wall on the side of the road during the descent about 12 miles from the finish.

"Wouter was dropped and tried to come back to the group," Cardoso said. "(He) then looked behind to see if it would be better to wait for other dropped riders. While looking behind, he hit 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 again hit something."

Weylandt's father and the cyclist's pregnant girlfriend were en route to Italy.

The crash came almost exactly a year after one of the biggest victories of Weylandt's career -- the third stage of the 2010 Giro on May 10. His other main tour stage victory came in the 2008 Spanish Vuelta when he won the 17th stage.

Race organizers canceled the prize ceremony after the stage. The Leopard-Trek team did not immediately announce whether it would stay in the race, and all riders were free to decide whether to enter today's fourth stage.

Tragic rides

Wouter Weylandt is the first rider to be killed in a crash in one of cycling's three main tours since Italian rider Fabio Casartelli died during the 1995 Tour de France.

Weylandt is the fourth cyclist to die during the Giro d'Italia and the first in 25 years. The others were Orfeo Ponsin (1952), Juan Manuel Santisteban (1976) and Emilio Ravasio (1986).

At the 2009 Giro, Pedro Horrillo fell 200 feet over a guardrail into a ravine during the eighth stage. The next day, the main pack rode slowly to protest safety conditions.

In 2003, Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev died after he fell from his bike and fractured his skull while not wearing a helmet during the Paris-Nice stage race. The International Cycling Union subsequently made the wearing of hard helmets compulsory.

-- Associated Press


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