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.
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.