As I was going about my business in my office, someone said "Big crash in the Giro today. A Leopard Trek rider has crashed." My initial reaction was that "Oh, that is too bad. If it is a bad crash, the team will have to be a rider down - already in the Giro. Not good for their overall plan".
Not in my wildest dreams, did I think that the story would go from that to the harsh reality of the situation.
Next Ben called, "Joe...(his voice was breaking up and immediately I knew it was bad), I just spoke with Luca in Italy. Wouter Weylandt has crashed, and he did not make it...." I was completely crushed. I had to sit myself down and choke back the tears. I could not believe it. This is not supposed to happen. I think I sat there for a long time. Unable to react, unable to process it.
Shock has settled on my office, and all of Trek. There is no music playing, there is a lot less talking in the halls. People in the office who have never met anyone from the Leopard Trek team are crushed. I am having a hard time describing how heavy my heart feels, and I can tell there are lots of others at Trek that feel the same way. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be with the team in Italy right now.
As difficult as it is to be part of the team, that is surely nothing compared to how a few families feel. Wouter's parents and siblings, his girlfriend who is pregnant with their first baby and all his friends in Belgium are surely completely devastated.
Cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world. The Giro is the kick off to the glorious summer race season. We sponsor cycling, because it is such a fantastic sport and that cycling is such a life affirming activity. I am shattered that any rider would die doing it, but for a young talented rider at the top of the sport to pass in such a horrible way is beyond that.
I did not know Wouter well. I have met him, along with meeting all the other riders with the Leopard Trek team. I thought he was friendly and a good looking Belgian kid. I thought he had funny hair. I have a huge respect for what he can do on a bicycle. I know that at Paris Roubaix, he looked deadly serious going into battle.
I suspect he loved cycling. I do not think you can be a pro cyclist and accept all the dangers of the sport for just the money. There has to be a huge amount of passion for cycling as a pro cyclist, because there are easier ways to make a living. As this weeks event shows us, there are certainly safer ways.
There are 2 photos that I want to remember Wouter by.
I had not met Wouter when this one was taken, but I am sure this is how he would want to be remembered - at the top of the sport on that moment with his arms held high - happy for the success he was achieving.
We all thought there would be more, but that was stolen away from Wouter, while doing what he loved.
Godspeed Wouter. We will all miss you.