Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tragedy at the Giro d'Italia

In the world of professional cycling there are three "grand tours" every year, so called because they span a period of three weeks and cover over 2,000 miles each. They are the Giro d'Italia (May), the Tour de France (July), and the Vuelta a Espana (August).

Yesterday was stage three of the Giro and I was quite excited to watch it. It was my day off, I had paid to get both live and on demand access, and I just couldn't wait to curl up with my favorite drink and take it all in. The race was going quite well. There was enough climbing on the day to spread the riders out on the road and it was hard to predict how the stage would end.

But as the riders were descending a switchback road on their final approach to the finish line, a young Belgian named Wouter Weylandt lost control. It seems that he caught his left pedal on a wall and launched over the bars, falling about 20 feet down to the next level of road and landing straight on his head.

The race doctor just happened to be following Welandt's group at that time and therefore got to him almost immediately. But the trauma was severe. Unfortunately, television producers allowed images of the Belgian to be broadcast across the world--I can't imagine being the one who allowed that to happen--and without going into detail, let's just say the images were horrific. I knew, the announcers knew, anyone who saw the images knew he wasn't going to make it.

And he did not.

The doctors worked on him for 45 minutes or so right there on the road but sadly Welandt died and was later taken to the hospital by helicopter. This is the first death in a grand tour since 1995 and the first in the Giro since 1986.

Yesterday was a very sad day at the Giro and today will be too. The tour will go on but stage 4 will be a ceremonial ride rather than a race, and Welandt's team, Leopard Trek, will be allowed to cross the finish line first in his honor.

One way we can honor Wouter Welandt is reflect on our own death, on the brevity of life, and give whatever we have left on this earth to Him who created us. As the Bible says, "For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). And again, "A voice says, 'Cry!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:6-8).

And the heart of the word of God to humanity is Jesus Christ. As the Bible says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:16-21).

I pray that the shadow of Welandt's death will drive many to the light of God in Jesus Christ. May the Lord be near to the Welandt family, the Giro d'Italia, and all those affected by this tragedy.

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