By Colin O’Brien | Photos by Kristof Ramon
Stage six’s winner Mark Cavendish likes the spotlight, but this win was about more than him. It was even about more than his team, who Cav is always quick to credit. This win had a singular significance.
As the Manxman took to the podium, he held aloft a race number: 108. It’s a number that conjures up dark memories. A recollection of the time, two years ago to the day, when on the slopes of the Bocco, the Giro descended at great pace, innocently but out of control, from the joyful pink of the Maglia Rosa and the Italian summer to the heavy, burdened black of the funeral procession.
Wouter Weylandt died descending the Passo del Bocco on 9 May 2011. Anyone watching at home that afternoon will remember the shaky pictures from above as the helicopter hovered and the doctors lingered, laboring in vain and the riders—racers, still—had no choice but to keep on going. There was a grim inevitability about it all.
The Belgian was a sprinter. He’d won a stage at the Giro himself, in 2010. Had it not been for the crash, he’d have done his best to be up there battling with Cavendish on the Viale Duca degli Abruzzi.
As it was, there was no one who could touch Cavendish or OPQS in Margherita di Savoia. They worked all day protecting Cavendish, controlling breaks, pacing the peloton and positioning their man for when it mattered most. Finally, the lead-out was flawless, Gert Steegmans sublime.
Like so many times before, Cavendish was launched with the full force of his team and all the strength that he squeezed out of his legs to the finish line and into the red jersey. He’s usually pretty hard to beat. That day, he was untouchable. After all, this one was for Wouter.