I don’t follow road racing much these days, but Wouter Weylandt’s fatal crash occupied my thoughts for much of the day on Monday. The death of a cyclist always strikes a chord, but when it happens in a major pro race to a young athlete, the resulting media coverage can be riveting.
The details come more quickly, the rider’s personal life is splashed all over the Internet (to know that Weylandt’s girlfriend is expecting their first child in September made me wince) and, of course, there’s video.
I’m not ashamed to say I searched websites for footage of Weylandt’s crash. Some people may consider that distasteful, but I didn’t have a morbid desire to watch a young man die; I just wanted to understand how he could. I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to learn from it because I ride bicycles, too.
It’s the same reason I scour news reports for details after bear maulings. I want to know what happened—and why—because I ride in bear country all summer long. Learning from someone else’s experience might make me a little bit safer.
Conflicting stories have made it hard to understand the exact circumstance’s of Weylandt’s crash. I’m still not clear on whether he went over a stone wall and fell a significant distance, or simply clipped the wall with a pedal and hit the pavement hard because of his speed. What I do know is that his death makes me question why recreational riders like me are willing to indulge in the thrill of high-speed descents.
I prefer to not think about the consequences of a crash at 45 or 50 mph. I just like to go fast. And for guys like me, going downhill is the only way we’ll come anywhere near experiencing what a pro feels on a bike in the mountains. I really don’t want to stop doing it.
But things can turn to shit, and they can turn to shit fast.
I’ve always liked to think that, for guys like me, there was nothing at stake during a ride except the stories to be told over a post-ride beer. But there’s a lot more on the line.
Maybe tapping the brake levers a little more often wouldn’t be a bad idea.