We didn’t actually see the aftermath of the crash until late last night when we saw a re-run of the stage on TV – horrific.
It would be easy to say that the those terrible images should never have been shown, but it was going out live and the editors in the studio certainly wouldn’t be expecting to see what we did.
We’re in Genoa as I write this, headed for the partenza and not at all sure what we’ll find.
This morning I was up early to study Wouter’s palmares – they were stronger than I realised.
He was given a stagiaire place with Quickstep in 2004 on the back of good amateur results, including a win in the GP Waregem.
He would remain with Patrick Lefevre until the end of 2010 when he signed with Leopard TREK.
His first pro win came in his first full pro season – the GP Briek Schotte in 2005.
In 2006 he won Vichte-Anzegem, was second in Nokere Koerse and won the points jersey in the Tour of Poland.
He was fully in to his stride for 2007 with seven wins, including stages in the Three Days of West Flanders, Ronde van Belgie, Ster Elektrotoer and Eneco Tour.
His biggest wins to date came in 2008 in stage 17 of the Vuelta and Nokere Koerse.
The GP Samyn and a stage in the Three Days of West Flanders were the high points in 2009.
And it was just last year that he added a Giro stage to his palmares – stage 3 to Middelburg.
I feel very unsettled this morning and it takes a large grappa to restore inner calm.
The start area is subdued, although some folks are guffawing away like it’s ‘business as usual’ – but they’re young and perhaps don’t yet realise the value of life.
The mood and motivation aren’t there to ‘quote hunt’ but when we meet old friends we stop for a word.
Ex-pro and Geox DS Stefano Zanini reminded us of what we all know, but often forget;
‘Cycling is a dangerous sport, not just descents but every time you take a bad corner or contest a sprint.
I don’t think that course was too dangerous yesterday – I think it was destiny.
Today we will honour Leopard; we will ride the parcours and they will cross the line first in Livorno.
It’s very difficult for my riders, today – cycling is a big family, it doesn’t matter about which team you are a member of.
To race ? not to race today ? – but life goes on . . . .
The early part of the parcours clings to the coast, one glorious view follows another and the sweet smell of flowers floods the car.
Over to our right, on the headland, is Portofino, playground of the rich and famous – maybe some other time.
The parcours meander inland and up into the hills, the crowds are big, but subdued – although the kids still wave and clap.
We had a couple of minutes with Sky’s ‘man of words,’ Canadian Michael Barry, this morning; there’s a black band on his left arm.
He had a smile for us but there was sadness behind it; ‘we’ll ride the parcours, today but not race – it’s not appropriate.’
The Passo del Bracco is the first GPM at 62 K; it’s a monster but chicken feed to what awaits in the far north in a fortnight.
The descent is long but not as technical or prone to the ‘shadow traps’ of yesterday’s deadly drop off the Bocco.
Far below us, the motorway disappears into a tunnel through the wooded hill.
L’Equipe’s Philippe Brunel was interviewing a sombre looking Paolo Bettini at the start – we grabbed a few words;
‘The death of a cyclist isn’t just one death, it’s a death for all of cycling.
Cycling is a dangerous sport but it’s also a sport with a lot of humanity; that’s why the death of a rider affects everyone.’
The countryside is pleasant off the descent, green, gently dropping – we’re way down on the race’s slowest schedule but still the vans selling race paraphernalia hurtle past.
We don’t think it’s appropriate; but the guys who run those vans hire them and run them as franchise – every Euro is a prisoner.
There are tributes to Wouter roadside, we stop to take pictures.
A fan asks what’s happening with the race; ‘piano’ we say and make the sign of slow pedalling with our fingers.
He shakes his head knowingly and smiles a little – as Jim says, they’re happy to wait and wait just to see the ‘corridore.’
We spoke to Gianni Savio again, this morning; his ‘boy’ Angel Vicioso won the stage but the Spaniard had to ride the roller coaster from joy to sorrow in the space of a few seconds.
‘We had victory on a day which none of us would wish for.
The riders did not know about Wouter and in the cars we did not know if he was dead or alive until the finish.
Angel was shouting; “I won ! I won ! I won !” into his radio.
I had to say; “Angel, there is a problem, a big problem.”
He went from being very, very happy to tears in a matter of seconds.”
Ever south we head, to our left the mountains of the Appenino chain rear high and white whilst we roll along pan flat and straight boulevards through endless ‘any town Italia’
And then reconnect with the coast; beach to the right, hotels to the left.
One of our ‘insider’ friends was venting his feelings about the UCi to us this morning;
‘They say that you can’t use needles to give riders saline or vitamin drips – that’s fine, but shouldn’t they be looking at safety issues as well ?’
Coffee stop; everyone is sympatico about Wouter – everyone thinks that it’s the correct thing to do to ‘piano’ the stage.
And there’s The Leaning Tower of Pisa, over on our left.
The last climb, a cat. 4 which is short, steep, savage through the village and then eases off to just plain hard – there will be a lot of guys glad not to be racing this climb.
We park up, unfortunately the local anti-facist league has made camp here, too.
Some of their ideals are worth campaigning for – but maybe not on a day like today and with less rap music and alcohol.
But it takes all sorts to make a bike race.
Androni leads as the peloton rides by in silence, judging by some of the faces, it wasn’t that much of a promenade.
The Leopard guys stare straight ahead.
And then they’re past and it’s time to find the hotel, send the pictures and write the words.
Last words ?
From our host at the hotel; ‘yesterday was like a storm from a blue sky.’
Wouter, rest in peace.