Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt was killed Monday in a high-speed downhill crash during the third stage of the Giro d'Italia, the first fatality at the Italian race in 25 years.
Weylandt fell during a descent about 20 kilometres from the finish in Rapallo, Italy, and lay motionless and bleeding heavily on the roadside before paramedics cut off his helmet and tried to resuscitate him.
"We arrived immediately as we were behind his group," Giro doctor Giovanni Tredici said. "He was unconscious with a fracture of the skull base and facial damage.
"After 40 minutes of cardiac massage, we had to suspend the resuscitation because there was nothing more we could do."
The Leopard-Trek rider's body was covered by a sheet and taken by ambulance about an hour after the accident.
"The descent was a technical one, the asphalt was smooth," said Davide Vigano, one of Weylandt's teammates.
"I wasn't told about what had happened during the race. I'm lost for words."
The rider's team put a picture of a smiling Weylandt on its website with a statement "on behalf of the entire Leopard Trek team."
"Today, our teammate and friend Wouter Weylandt passed away after a crash on the 3rd stage of the Giro d'Italia," the statement said. "The team is left in a state of shock and sadness and we send all our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Wouter.
"This is a difficult day for cycling and for our team and we should all seek support and strength in the people close to us."
Race organizers cancelled the prize ceremony because of the crash. Spanish rider Angel Vicioso won Monday's stage, a 173-kilometre ride from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo, while David Millar of Britain took the pink jersey as overall leader.
'Shocked and saddened'
Leopard-Trek team manager Brian Nygaard said the rest of the team's riders would meet to decide whether they wanted to continue in the Giro, which finishes May 29 in Milan.
"I'm shocked and saddened. May he rest in peace," seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said on Twitter.
Last year, on May 10, 2010, Weylandt won the third stage of the Giro on its final day in the Netherlands. His other main tour stage victory came in the 2008 Spanish Vuelta when he won the 17th stage from Zamora to Valladolid.
Weylandt was the first rider killed in a crash in one of cycling's three main tours since Italian rider Fabio Casartelli died during the 1995 Tour de France. At the Giro, Weylandt is the fourth cyclist to die during the race and the first in 25 years. Orfeo Ponsin died in 1952, Juan Manuel Santisteban in 1976 and Emilio Ravasio in 1986.
"Things like this shouldn't happen. Absolutely sick to the stomach," British cyclist Mark Cavendish said on Twitter.
"My thoughts are with his family. RIP Wouter Weylandt."
'Have to overcome their grief'
In March 2003, Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev died after he fell from his bike and fractured his skull while not wearing a helmet during the Paris-Nice stage race. The International Cycling Union subsequently made the wearing of hard helmets compulsory.
Weylandt joined the newly formed Leopard-Trek team at the start of the 2011 season, following six years with Quick Step.
UCI President Pat McQuaid issued a statement offering "sympathies to all members of Weylandt's family, all his friends and teammates, but also to all his colleagues on the Giro, who will have to overcome their grief to continue in the race."
Italian cycling federation president Renato Di Rocco said Weylandt's death left the sport "in anguish."
"My first thoughts go to his family, his teammates, managers and technicians and the Belgian cycling federation, to which the entire cycling community offers its support," Di Rocco said. "We are all affected by this grief, caused by the imponderable, which is always a risk despite the measures made to insure maximum safety.
"From that point of view, the organizers did everything possible with great professionalism and timeliness. Faced with a tragedy like this no words are adequate."
Weylandt is survived by a pregnant girlfriend.