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Cycling community mourns loss of popular Belgian
The tragic death of Leopard Trek rider Wouter Weylandt in the Giro d'Italia today struck the cycling community hard today, but nowhere was the pain felt more than in the small Belgian city of Ghent, where the 26-year-old made his home.
Garmin-Cervélo's Tyler Farrar made the town his European base after becoming a professional, and soon became a close friend and training partner of Weylandt.
Farrar made a poignant statement on Monday evening:
"I am unbearably saddened by the loss of Wouter today. As many know, he was my friend, training partner, and in many ways, another brother to me. His death marks and irreparable change in my life but more importantly, in the lives of his family and most loved.
"Wouter was one of the kindest, funniest, and most admirable people I have ever had the opportunity to know and his death is a tragedy to his family, his friends, and to the sport as a whole.
"I can only convey my deepest of sympathies to everyone who cared about him as deeply as I did, especially his family, his friends, his team and his fans – we celebrate his life and morn his death in equal measure.
"Wouter was and is the soul of this sport we all love – an athlete who sacrificed himself for the better of many and a champion who celebrated each glory as a victory for his family, his team, and his friends and fans.
"I will remember him always, and will always strive to do him proud, as he has always done for the sport and people he loves."
Another Ghent professional, Iljo Keisse, said on Twitter, "Lost my best friend today. Wouter you where like a brother to me. Thanks for all the good times I'll never [f]orget what you did for me!"
The Quick Step team, with which Weylandt spent the first six seasons of his professional career, issued a statement saying, "For all of us, Wouter was a friend before he was a colleague. We remember him as an honest man, always available with a smile on his face and forever generous towards the next guy.
"Wouter leaves us with a terrible sense of loss and unbearable grief. We want to remember him with arms held high, crazy with joy after a victory, like the one at Middelburg last year. This is the image of him that all of us will carry in our hearts forever. "
RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel was also in shock, writing on his personal blog that, while he did not know Weylandt personally, he still had "that sick feeling in my stomach that won't go away" on hearing the news.
"It's a time like this that I think about my own crash off the mountainside in the Tour de France," Bruyneel recalled of a 1996 crash into a ravine off the Cormet de Roselend.
"Unlike Wouter, I was lucky that my crash was softened by the vegetation on the side of the cliff. As crazy as we were those days without a helmet, I can't imagine what could have been.
"For some reason that I will never know - I was given another chance and was able to climb up from the steep drop. Adrenaline pumping more than ever, I even managed to get back on the bike. It wasn't until later in the stage that I truly realized what had happened and how lucky I was to still be alive. I only wish that I could have passed on that same luck to Wouter."