Russell Downing says it was a ‘horrible day’ when Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt died during the Giro d’Italia.
The 26-year-old Weylandt was involved in a crash 25km from the finish line on Monday and despite immediate assistance from doctors at the side of the road never regained consciousness.
Downing, aged 32 from Thurcroft, Rotherham, is riding for Team Sky in his first Grand Tour. He said: “I passed Wouter after the crash and I could see straight away that it was serious.
“Obviously I was going quickly so I didn’t have much time but it looked bad. After the race I was shook up, felt sick and didn’t feel like racing again. It was a horrible day.”
Tuesday’s stage was a tribute to Weylandt, which saw his Leopard-Trek team and best friend Tyler Farrar cross the line together. Both have since pulled out of the race.
Despite the tragedy, Downing is acquitting himself well in one of cycling’s most important races.
He said demands are tougher than a normal race: “Everything is just a couple of kilometres an hour quicker. We ride along the flat faster, we go up hills faster and come down them quicker than usual. It’s all very ‘rapido’.”
While Downing sees the world from a saddle there’s very little time to take in the breathtaking beauty of the places he is passing through.
Speaking to The Star from Team Sky’s luxury tour bus he said: “There’s nine of us in the team so after the stage we eat, shower on the bus then try to get a massage before the main meal when we get back to the hotel.
“We’re not supposed to have a massage before we’ve eaten so that’s usually about 8.45pm. We eat as a team and then it’s back to our rooms. Have a sleep and then we do it all again the next day.”
Dutchman Pieter Weening retained the race leader’s pink jersey after the 216km sixth stage from Orvieto to Fiuggi yesterday.
Downing is 125th 20 minutes and 52 seconds behind with Sheffield’s Adam Blythe, aged 21, of Omega Pharma-Lotto in 193rd place.
Today’s 110km seventh stage from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano has a brutal mountain top finish.
Downing says it will be the stuff of Friday 13 nightmares: “We ride over the Strines quite a lot for training. The mountains out here are like that but times 10. They just go up and up and up. A bit down and then up and up again.”