As some of you may know, a rider in the Giro d’Italia died on stage three this week. His name was Wouter Weylandt and he was just a year older than me.
I didn’t feel that much sorrow when 9/11 happened. I didn’t personally know anyone that died there. And I don’t really feel anything tonight after 5,500 people in Africa died of HIV/AIDS yesterday (the daily average by the way). But strangely I did feel something when I heard about Wouter’s death and as I watched part of stage four when the pack rode slowly to the finish in mourning, no racing. A single person’s death can mean more sometimes because it’s not a statistic, but I don’t think that was the reason. I guess I don’t really have that much in common with the 9/11 or HIV victims. I do have a lot in common with Wouter and everything that he was working towards that was suddenly gone.
The people I felt most sorry for were Wouter’s teammates. I can hardly imagine how I’d feel if one of my teammates were killed in a race, or if I were killed and my teammates had to deal with that. I have no idea how I’d react. We spend so much time together during the season; they’re really some of my closest friends. And of course I felt terrible for Wouter’s family. I don’t think a family can ever get over a death as unexpected and sudden as that. People may say or think, “at least he died doing what he loved.” And they’d be correct. Although, at the time it’s hard to see that if you’re the bike racer. As cyclists, we spend most of our time looking to the future, looking around the bend for the next, bigger, better thing to happen. Looking for a downhill damn it! A new team, a win, a category upgrade, the next season when “everything will be different and better.” But usually there is no downhill around the bend, just more climbing.
It’s very hard to appreciate the moment in this sport. When you’re out on a long, cold five-hour training ride by yourself it’s too boring and miserable to soak it in. When you’re attacking your breakaway at mile three you’re too excited. When you’re brought back by the peloton after being caught and you’re suffering up a hard climb going backwards through the cars you’re in waaaaay too much pain. When you’re back home going over the race in your head for hours on end you’re too depressed. And when you’re back out training the following week you’re too excited again, looking forward to that next race where you’ll inevitably spend the entire time looking forward to the finish line. The future is always on our minds. Maybe it is for everyone and it’s a human flaw, not just a bike racer’s. Although it’s cliché I’ll say it anyways: you have to appreciate the moment, because like for Wouter, the future may never come.