In the aftermath of yesterday's tragic death of Wouter Weylandt (Leopard Trek) in stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia, today's 216km stage from Genova Quarto dei Mille to Livorno was neutralised as the peloton honoured the fallen Belgian.
The bustling port town of Livorno had prepared for a party, and instead it welcomed a funeral cortege, as the Giro d'Italia family mourned the late Wouter Weylandt on stage four.
As was anticipated from the moment his death was confirmed on Monday evening, the stage was neutralised and Weylandt's grieving fellow professionals honoured his memory by riding together along the Tyrrhenian coast, from Genoa south to Livorno.
Fittingly, each team took it in turns to spend 10 kilometres pacing at the head of the bunch. On a day when competition would have been anathema, the peloton stayed together as one single body through the corridor of muted applause that greeted them along the way.
Hosting the Giro is a major honour for towns and villages up and down the peninsula, but the spectators at the roadside were aware that they were observing something that transcended sport. Perhaps cycling's greatest appeal is the accessibility of the riders to their public, and their poignant tribute to Wouter Weylandt on the road to Livorno was a poignant exhibition of human compassion to which all of those looking on could relate.
3km from the line, as the bunch entered the streets of the town, the Garmin-Cervélo team of pink jersey David Millar finished their turn of pace-setting, and Weylandt's Leopard Trek teammates then came to the front and rode 10 metres ahead of the rest of the peloton.
In a touching moment, Weylandt's close friend Tyler Farrar was invited to join the Leopard Trek riders out in front. His grief was apparent and the American understandably left the race immediately after the stage, but he showed considerable courage in riding on Tuesday.
The eight Leopard Trek riders and Farrar crossed the line to warm and respectful applause from the huge crowds gathered at the finish. On finishing, the majority of the bunch made their way dolefully to their team buses, but the organisers invited the Leopard Trek squad as well as the four jersey holders to come to the podium.
Led on stage by pink jersey David Millar, and introduced in a low-key manner, with no fanfare or music, the twelve representatives of the mourning peloton stood before an image of Weylandt winning stage three of the 2010 Giro. A lone bugler then played the Last Call, while the gathered multitudes looked on in perfectly-observed silence
The visibly upset Leopard Trek riders descended quickly from the podium, where team manager Brian Nygaard and his staff were on hand to guide them to the team bus.
Out of a sense of duty, Millar and Alessandro Petacchi lingered a little longer to give their thoughts on a trying day to Italian television. There was no need. The actions of the peloton and the response from the crowds at the roadside had already said far more than mere words could ever hope to express.
This article was originally published on Cycljngnews.com.