QUARTO DEI MILLE, Italy Wouter Weylandt's Leopard Trek team mates pulled out of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday after taking part in a "stage of respect" for the Belgian rider who was killed in a crash.
With the pace deliberately slow and the results for stage four not counting, team after team took over at the head of the pack during the 216 km ride from Quarto dei Mille to Livorno.
Weylandt's eight remaining Leopard Trek team mates, accompanied by the Belgian's close friend Tyler Farrar of the United States, fought back tears as they moved to the front of the bunch with four kilometres remaining and crossed the line together with arms round each others' shoulders.
However, the Leopard Trek riders found the events of the past 24 hours too difficult to handle and pulled out of the three-week race late on Tuesday.
Weylandt, 26, died after falling off his bike coming down from Passo del Bocco on Monday and suffering multiple injuries.
"The decision needed to be taken by the riders because they are the ones that participate in the race. We have always said that we would stand behind their choice," team manager Brian Nygaard explained in a statement.
"We wish to thank the other teams, the race organisation RCS, the Italian authorities and all the fans on the road between Genova and Livorno on today's stage, as the peloton paid tribute to Wouter Weylandt."
Earlier on Tuesday, the Leopard Trek riders struggled to control their emotions as they stood on the podium to hear The Last Post following the day's stage. Usual celebrations were cancelled.
"He leaves a huge gap, it's something that never should have happened," Weylandt's Italian team mate Davide Vigano told reporters.
"But we won't forget the way the public have applauded us all the way along today's stage, either. To know we have that kind of support in these tough moments is very important."
One fan carried a sign in English saying "Condolences to the Weylandt family" while others showed their support by holding aloft Belgian flags.
"It does put everything into perspective for sure and it's hard even to say anything about it," Canadian rider Michael Barry told Reuters.
"It's something you do think about often you're going down mountains but fortunately it happens so rarely."
The Sky rider said Weylandt's fatal crash had brought the dangers of the sport into sharp focus.
"I think we riders become accustomed to the risks and I don't know if the public necessarily understands the risks we take until things like this happen," he added.
"My wife was a bike racer and I grew up in a family of cyclists too (and) they think about the risks often. My wife doesn't like to watch the races I'm in when we know the risks will be greater.
"It's a hard day to get through but it is important we pay our respects to Wouter," added British rider Russell Downing.
Riders also observed a minute's silence before the stage on Tuesday and a military band played the Last Post.
Before the start of the coastal stage, Britain's race leader David Millar told reporters: "Wouter was a guy you thought would never die. It is a shock because he was so full of life.
"We have his best friend Tyler Farrar in the team and he's going home tonight because for him it's too much."
Normal racing is expected to resume on Wednesday, with a 191 km stage from Piombino to Orvieto. The race finishes on May 29th in Milan.
(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris)
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