|Weylandt's death is the first fatality at the Giro d'Italia in 25 years [AFP]
Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt has died following a crash in the Giro d'Italia, his Leopard–Trek team confirmed on Monday.
Weylandt fell during a descent about 20 kilometres from the finish in Rapallo, northern Italy, becoming the first fatality at the Italian race in 25 years.
"Today, our team mate and friend Wouter Weylandt passed away after a crash on the 3rd stage of the Giro d'Italia," Leopard-Trek manager Bryan Nygaard said in a statement.
"The team is left in a state of shock and sadness and we send all our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Wouter.
"This is a difficult day for cycling and for our team, and we should all seek support and strength in the people close to us."
The 26-year-old rider fell off his bike in the descent from the Passo del Bocco.
Doctors at the scene cut off his helmet and performed cardiac massage for 40 minutes but their efforts were in vain despite the arrival of a helicopter.
"We arrived immediately as we were behind his group,'' Giro doctor Giovanni Tredici said.
"He was unconscious with a fracture of the skull base and facial damage. After 40 minutes of cardiac massage we had to suspend the resuscitation because there was nothing more we could do.''
"The descent was a technical one, the asphalt was smooth,'' said Davide Vigano, one of Weylandt's teammates.
"I wasn't told about what had happened during the race. I'm lost for words.''
Helmets have been mandatory in cycling since the death of Kazakhstan's Andrei Kivilev during the Paris-Nice race in 2003.
Italian Thomas Casarotto died following a crash during last year's Giro del Friuli.
The last rider to die in a crash in a grand tour was Italy's Fabio Casartelli during the 1995 Tour de France.
"The UCI has heard of Wouter Weylandt's death with great sadness and president Part McQuaid's thoughts and prayers go to the rider's family and friends, but also to the riders, who will overcame the shock to start to race again tomorrow," the International Cycling Union said in statement.
In 2009, riders protested against what they saw as unsafe racing conditions on the Giro after Spanish rider Pedro Horrillo narrowly escaped death in a terrible crash down a ravine.
Race organisers cancelled the prize ceremony because of the crash. Spanish rider Angel Vicioso won Monday's stage, a 173-kilometre ride from Reggio Emilia to Rapallo, while David Millar of Britain took the pink jersey as overall leader.
Last year, on May 10, 2010, Weylandt won the third stage of the Giro on its final day in the Netherlands. His other main tour stage victory came in the 2008 Spanish Vuelta when he won the 17th stage from Zamora to Valladolid.