Anthony Tan reflects on the day that time stood still and the media handling of a grief-stricken event.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Eerie was the first word that came to mind.



For the majority of the 216 kilometres of Tuesday's fourth stage, the susurrations created by the coastal winds blowing from the Tyrrhenian Sea were the only sounds audible; there were times I thought I could see the ghostly presence of Wouter Weylandt hovering over the 206-strong peloton that rode en masse from Genova to Livorno.


It was a TV commentator's nightmare that effectively became a six-hour eulogy, though it pales in comparison to what actually happened the previous day on the Passo del Bocco.


Often when an incident of this magnitude occurs – sporting, political or otherwise – certain sections of the media, tapping into society's ignoramuses conditioned to react always in the negative, ring Pavlov's bell by drumming up asinine stories, or fabricate falsehoods to fuel conspiracy theorists' fires. As broadcaster and journalist Mike Carlton observed in last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald, "Most conspiracy theorists are shaky on the literacy front, perhaps because they write with such furious haste. Or maybe they are just plain stupid."



From what I saw, read and heard on the tragic passing of Weylandt that did not happen. For the most part, the horrible episode and its reporting were treated with the gravitas and probity that the 26-year-old Belgian deserved.



One such example came from my cycling colleague and friend at the UK's Telegraph newspaper, Brendan Gallagher, who penned a moving column about the minor miracles performed each day by those we watch. Yet these everyday feats go largely unnoticed. "Most of those concerned are natural risk-takers as well as quite brilliant bike handlers and many seem to have an inbuilt self preservation instinct that is combination of experience and a racer's sixth sense.



"It's part of their genius," Gallagher wrote. "But occasionally your luck just runs out."



I thought it fitting that David Millar, in my mind the most eloquently spoken man in today's peloton, was the maglia rosa. The situation required someone of his verbal aptitude to deliver what the riders all felt, which took on a special poignance for Millar given his team-mate Tyler Farrar and Weylandt were best friends, and Millar's wife, like Wouter's, was carrying their unborn child.



And that two sprinters, who regularly went head-to-head with each other in their day-jobs, could be bosom buddies off the bike, speaks volumes for both their characters. I don't claim to have known Weylandt but I know Farrar, who I often think is too nice and too kind to be a sprinter.



"Wouter's death today goes beyond anything that our sport is supposed to be about," said Millar on Monday, "it is a tragedy that we as sportsmen never expect, yet we live with it daily, completely oblivious to the dangers we put ourselves in. This is a sad reminder to us, the racers, what risks we take and what lives we lead.


"My wife was in tears when I spoke to her after the race because she couldn't understand why the live television was showing him receiving medical attention when in such a horrific state. All she could imagine was that it was me. I haven't told her yet, that like her, Wouter's girlfriend is five months pregnant."



I don't blame the television director for showing those images. At the time RAI television, the broadcaster responsible, could not have known Weylandt was dead on impact, as the autopsy later revealed, and when the cameras closed in to show the state he was in, the director did not wait long to cut back to the image of the descending peloton.



I'm standing up for my journalism colleagues because it is very easy to blame the media. We are an easy target. Yet if people like us didn't do what we do, you would be left with nothing at all.



Think about the hoard of print reporters, independent video journalists and photographers who work on their own. At a race like the Giro, they are the majority of the sala stampa (press centre). And after sending their respective editors and producers the material required, post-haste, they are left to analyse the situation for themselves, trying in vain to make sense of what happened just hours ago. Something only days, weeks or even years later, they can finally self-reconcile.



I accept that with responsible journalism comes irresponsible reportage. But such a tenet applies to every profession, even the most noble. To cast a football field-sized umbrella over all of us is an irresponsible act in itself.



"Who knows what I might do after cricket?" recently said former Australian Test cricketer, Stuart Clark. "I must say I like the idea of just bagging blokes in the paper for a living, so that might be my future."

Quipped Peter FitzSimons, former Wallaby turned journalist and author, with rhetoric to match said jibe: "It's a surprisingly good living, Stuart."



Doing what we do provides information in the public interest; evokes happiness and sadness; holds our stakeholders to account and keeps 'em honest; expands one's knowledge and understanding; offers the ingredients for the weekend's post-ride coffee shop banter; and on a first date, can make you look more intelligent (or, depending on your memory recall, more stupid) than you really are.



What other profession can do all that?

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan