Italian national team manager Paolo Bettini was team leader at Quick Step when the late Wouter Weylandt began his professional career with the Belgian team, and speaking in Genoa on Tuesday, he remembered a young man who had made a career out of his greatest passion.
"I knew him, he signed for Quick Step when I was at Quick Step," Bettini told journalists ahead of stage four of the Giro d’Italia, which was neutralised in honour of Weylandt’s memory. "He spent the first few years of his career with me before I retired. He was a guy who was full of energy and who turned his favourite game – something he really loved – into his job."
Weylandt died after crashing heavily on the way down the Passo del Bocco during Monday’s stage and Bettini pointed out that Weylandt had already safely negotiated the most dangerous section of the descent prior to his crash.
"I was on the race and I saw the descent," Bettini said. "I was about two minutes ahead of the race. It was a technical and demanding descent, but we’ve done worse. Over the years I’ve seen worse descents, and certainly between now and Milan they will see worse. The fall came almost at the end of the descent where the road was a lot more straightforward than what they had done a couple of kilometres before."
While Bettini did not feel that the descent of the Passo del Bocco required undue risk from the riders, he expressed the hope that lessons would continue to be drawn on how to improve the safety of the riders.
"When I was a rider, we protested a lot about difficult courses, dangerous finishes and dangerous roads, but I don’t think that yesterday’s situation could be viewed like that," he said. "I do hope that this will still serve as a step towards finding safer courses, but as I’ve said before, we don’t ride on a track, we don’t ride on a race-car circuit, we ride on roads."
However, Bettini acknowledged that in cycling, as in life, risk can never be wholly eliminated, and he mused on the unspoken dangers that professional cyclists have to face.
"They’re ready from the morning of the first day to the evening of the last," he said. "It’s not that somebody just picks up a bike and goes to the Giro. These guys have been preparing their seasons since December, racing all over the world since January. It’s their job, and a fatality is something that nobody can predict."
Stage 14 to the summit of the fearsome Zoncolan includes the much-hyped descent of the Monte Crostis. Bettini said that he could not judge whether the Dolomite downhill posed too much of a threat to rider safety, but that the important thing was that cycling continued its efforts to reduce risk insofar as it is possible.
"I don’t know the descent," he said. "I only hope that moments like this serve to limit risks in the future, even if it would be impossible to eliminate them completely. The possibility of a fatality will always be there, but we will keep trying to avoid it."