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Giro d'Italia remembers Wouter Weylandt on return to Passo del Bocco

Riders pass a monument in memory of Wouter Weylandt of Belgium who died at Passo Del Bocco in 2011 during the 105th Giro dItalia
Riders pass a monument in memory of Wouter Weylandt of Belgium who died at Passo Del Bocco in 2011 during the 105th Giro dItalia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Bright sunshine was washing through the narrow alleyways of Genoa, and the port was aflame with light and colour and noise. Up and down the peninsula, from the smallest hamlets to a sprawling city such as this, the passage of the Giro d'Italia brings with it a carnival atmosphere.

The tifosi applaud the bike riders, but they are celebrating something more substantial than a mere bike race. For most on the roadside at the finish of stage 12 on Thursday, the fight for the pink jersey was incidental to the simple act of being part of a shared experience.

Three hours earlier and almost 100km up the road, the scene was altogether quieter but the shared experience was just as powerful. As the Giro visited the Passo del Bocco for the first time since Wouter Weylandt's death in 2011, race director Mauro Vegni stopped by the roadside to place a bouquet near the spot on the descent where the late rider crashed.

Weylandt is already remembered there by a permanent monument and the Giro has long honoured the Belgian by retiring the 108 race number he wore on that doleful afternoon, but this was the first time the race had come this way since the tragedy. The ceremony was short and sombre, and the message on the bouquet laid down by Vegni was simple: "108, always with us."

"It was a strong emotion," Vegni told Cyclingnews at the finish in Genoa. "I have to say, I didn't even remember that the descent was so long. Seeing Wouter's image there really hit me. It was painful, but it was a moment to remember somebody who is always with us.

"I want to the be clear, that his name and that race number are indelible parts of the Giro d'Italia. Our ceremony today was very delicate and sober, without fanfare, because this is what we thought was right."

Vegni was technical director of that 2011 Giro and, as for everybody present on that race, the memories of the tragedy and its aftermath are enduring. The atmosphere at the finish in Rapallo was downcast long before then director Angelo Zomegnan and Michele Acquarone entered the press room late that evening to confirm the tragic news of Weylandt's death.

The following morning's stage set out from Genoa, though it was clear before the start that competition was anathema to such a day of mourning. Instead, the long road to Livorno resembled a funeral cortege, as the bunch soft-pedalled through corridors of gentle applause. At the finish, the Weylandt's Leopard Trek teammates and his close friend Tyler Farrar crossed the line ahead of the peloton.

Vincenzo Nibali is one of five riders in the 2022 Giro who was present on the race eleven years ago. "I remember it only started to dawn after the finish that something serious happened," Nibali told Sporza. "There were no journalists and there was no music. It was only in the bus that we heard what had happened to Weylandt. It was a very sad day. The ride the next day was a tribute to him. We tried to commemorate him as best we could, and we still do today."

Luca Guercilena was a Leopard Trek directeur sportif in 2011 and he is now the manager of its successor, Trek-Segafredo. The team had already paid tribute to Weylandt on his anniversary of May 9 and the passage over the Passo del Bocco was another occasion to recall the late sprinter, who won had a stage of this race in 2010 in Middelburg.

"Unfortunately, the Passo del Bocco isn't joy for us but pain," Guercilena said. "I was the directeur sportif on the day when Wouter died. Obviously, we have to go on, but the memory of Wouter will be with us forever."

While the Tour de France returned to the Col de Portet d'Aspet two years after Fabio Casartelli's death there in 1995, the Giro had avoided the Passo del Bocco for over a decade. Vegni said that the race organisation had not taken a conscious decision to avoid the descent in the years after Weylandt's death.

"No, it's just often the route takes on a logic of its own. We simply didn't have a way of inserting the Passo del Bocco into the route until now," Vegni said. "In fact, we asked ourselves a lot in these past few days: how on earth didn't we come back here sooner? But in reality, we hadn't been in Liguria since the Grande Partenza in 2015, which is already seven years ago, so there was no premeditation."

It was a day of commemoration for the Giro. As well as remembering Weylandt on the Passo del Bocco, the race's visit to Genoa served to mark the collapse of part of the road viaduct of Ponte Morandi in August 2017, in which 43 people lost their lives.

The tragedy has marked this city indelibly. The remains of the bridge were demolished and then rebuilt, opening in August 2020. On Thursday, the Giro was routed into Genoa by way of the new and renamed Viadotto Genova-San Giorgio. As ever at the Giro, the shared experience was about far more than a mere bike race.

 

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.