Safety nets on Monte Crostis descent

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The video above is the descent of Monte Crostis, planned for stage 14 of the Giro, the one that finishes on the infamous Zoncolan. I found the video via Italian journalist Alberto Celani.

Molto tecnica
The climb is hard enough, averaging over 10% for 14km, with an 18% section. Now that’s hard enough but then comes the descent, labelled as “discesa molto tecnica stretta intervallata da numerosi tornati” by the organisers. In plain English that’s a “very technical descent with with numerous bends”.

It’s hard to talk about the numbers, they can seem abstract. Remember riders will be racing full gas. By the time they get to the top most will be in a state of exhaustion and very prone to the cold temperatures. Tired and shivering, reaction times are slowed; sometimes your hands don’t work the brake levers so well.

Ski course

Hard snow and sharp edges are more predictable than gravel

Press play and you’ll soon notice the netting and even the giant padding in place on the way down. It reminds me of a ski course. These safety measures have been planned for some time but they’ve been reviewed again following Wouter Weylandt’s tragic accident and riders are rightly concerned.

It’s hard to tell from the onboard camera but the road isn’t sealed, it has a gravel surface. As such traction is random in places and a mistake or just bad luck means the netting is required to prevent the riders from serious injury or worse.

Having reviewed the descent, former pro Flavio Vanzella told the Messagero VenetoA descent of this kind with the works done must be a model for how to organize a bike race. I’ve done 14 grand tours in my career and I’ve never seen such a high attention to safety.” (grateful thanks to Matthew Conn for pointing out this article)

Wet or dry?
Note the weather could be crucial. A dusty track could be looser and harder to ride on, some moisture in the gravel could fix things a bit but it’ll also hamper braking.

A lined crossed?
For me there’s something subtly different. I’m unsure about the use of this road, it seems extreme. It’s right that safety measures are included but it’s very different to see the peaceful Alpine roads suddenly lined with bright netting and padding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s essential. But it marks a subtle shift whereby the great outdoors is turned into a circus show, the race steps from Alpine road into televisual spectacle. This isn’t new but the bright blue nets – complete with sponsoring – and yellow pads are a very obvious contrast to the damp pastures and rocky slopes. It’s almost as if the race isn’t borrowing the landscape but creating it.

Race or ride?
It’s not even certain the race goes ahead. Riders have been talking about a “go slow”, perhaps neutralising the race until the Zoncolan. This remains to be seen and I suspect the weather will influence this.

Hopefully all goes well and that they’ve over-compensated with the netting and padding. Riders are very aware of the dangers and measures are in place to help prevent the worse. All the same just because there is netting, it doesn’t mean the race is safe. The nets don’t fix the loose road surface, the steep gradient or the sharp bends. Smash into the padding at 60km/h and you might not get back up that quickly. But if the Zoncolan is a climb like no other, this is a type of descent rarely seen.

Gavin May 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

I am a bit shocked having seen this video. I was previously very excited about how hard this Giro is but I don’t want to see anyone hurt for entertainment.

The peloton could be quite thin at this section due to how hard the climb is but I think they should consider neutralising the race for this section.

I’ve never raced so perhaps I’m over-reacting but the lack of armco is worrying and I’m fairly certain that if someone lost traction on a straight section causing others to take avoiding action this could cause a rider to come off the road on a section that was not anticipated as being dangerous.

Stefan May 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

I find your paragraph “a line crossed?” absolutely spot on. Best thing I’ve read about this stage.

jkeltgv May 17, 2011 at 10:13 am

Maybe the netting will encourage some riders to take more risks than they might have normally done – perhaps these nets could create a very real ‘false sense of security’. If they kept it natural then riders would back off a bit, but hey, we’re safe now – lets go ‘a bloc’….this even could be subconcious, but real none the less. Damned if you do….

bikecellar May 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

Athletic endevour or Circus show? The Roman Ampitheatre comes to mind. I think the Giro has crossed the line.

TomC May 17, 2011 at 10:56 am

The descent does look incredibly dramatic and exciting, as a result of the danger and spectacular scenery.

There’s another aspect to this that you haven’t discussed. From the look of the video the road is only wide enough for one car, this makes me wonder about not only the safety of the riders in terms of coming off the road but also negotiating round the cars that make up the caravan. I expect that team cars will likely be replaced with motos but will there still be other cars associated with the race on the course? If so then mix riders descending at 60kph+ with a narrow gravel road and cars and there is another source of accidents. Not only that but if there is an accident how easy will it be for medical assistance to arrive? Will this not cause a traffic jam of motos/cars and riders behind, causing chaos and possibly further accidents? Perhaps the Giro organisers have crossed the line with this road.

Matt Taber May 17, 2011 at 11:30 am

Do you think it’s just the camera angle, or does the road look like it cambers right to left…..?

Owen May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I do wonder whether this whole Giro is a bit too much. I know that you have to be able to climb well to win a grand tour, but this year takes that to the extreme. This descent just makes the Giro that much more extreme where only the the über-climber who avoids loose gravel and unlucky punctures can win.

MarkW May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I think it’s a precedent on a steep descent. Previously dodgy descents are natural, there are no crash barriers, what you see is what you get, riders have to ride to the conditions, every corner requires a split second rider risk assessment (or careful analysis and recce beforehand).

Now, the organisers will be open to the accusation that they should have identified and protected riders from dangers by putting in temporary safety features. But I guess this is little different to crash barriers and cushions on street furniture in city centre circuits or policeman waving flags warning in front of bollards in the middle of the road.

van Loenen May 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm

After watching stage 3, I belive this is also an unexceptable risk. If the road was sealed them maybe but the fact that its gravel is the real concern.

David N. Welton May 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I’m all in favor of utilizing more of the small, windy, interesting roads that abound in Italy, but that thing looks pretty dangerous.

On the other hand, it’s not like something like the Gavia is the very model of a modern major thoroughfare either – it had gravel as well until fairly recently, if I recall correctly, and also has some pretty serious dropoffs.

Actually, what I’d like to see, to make the race more interesting, more than spectacular roads like that one, are more of the little roads that twist and turn and go up and down – that kind of thing wears on you after a while, and is perhaps safer than a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.

melbin_rider May 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm

umm, guna have to go against the flow and say I can’t wait for this downhill section. check the old school photos, riders dealt with this stuff (gravel mountain roads) way back when and for mind this helped create some of their enduring legend. last years gravel stage (albeit wide well traversed gravel roads from the strade bianche) with cadel and vino nearly unrecognisable and covered in mud was classic, and my hope is this decent produces something similar. we have stages built for sprinters, stages for climbers, why not stages for guys who can actually handle their rigs? i am not sure i really see a difference between descending at 100 km/h on a smooth sealed road, compared to maybe 50 km/h on this gravel road. both would scare the daylights out of most riders, but that’s what takes these guys to the next level. anything to promote skill (bike handling), tactics and race smarts (not that athletic prowess isn’t impressive either) is all good in my book.

the circus aspect for me is more related to the vertical gains some of these stages have, which make the stages really only available to the most specialised of climbers, who to be honest are not what you’d call your average cyclist on the street (freaks is a bit harsh – but in the giro commentary recently it was noted that one of the south american guys weighed in at 49 kgs – but they are definitely outliers even in the pelaton, let alone the broader population).

@ van Leonon – for mind, WW’s tragic accident has nothing to do with what should now be considered ‘safe’ or not. his accident was completely beyond control of the race organisers.

@ TomC – fair point, traffic management could be issue if problems arise. am still looking forward to the stage though, but I guess that’s the luxury of watching from my couch as opposed to my saddle with a team boss screaming in my ear. if this was the reason put forward by riders for neutralising the decent, then fair enough.

Tom May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm

@ Melbin,

Not completely true on Loenen’s point. An organisation has to be able to locate a rider in need of medical assistance fast and needs to be able to send him that assistance fast as well.
If the gravel is not wider that 1 car how on earth is anyone able to rush to a fallen rider, let alone securing him for travel to the nearest hospital?
In short, I agree with the Inner Ring’s point. Spectacle is nice, but this is irresponsible.

beev May 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Personally, the time to have had this discussion was when the route was announced. Now, there are just too many competing emotions for a decision to be made that is acceptable to all stakeholders. Ultimately, the teams and riders accepted the route when they signed up to their respective teams – if they had refused then to do the route then steps would have been made to make changes. Equally, they all have brakes on their bikes, so if you are not willing to take risk for a possible win (ie the vast majority should be in this category) now that you find yourself in the race you agreed to partake in, then use your brakes – there is no shame in that. Nothing will bring back poor Wouter, so taking reactionary steps that neuter all elements of risk in this sport is not the way to go.

David N. Welton May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm

@Tom – something like the Gavia, as I mentioned, is very narrow as well in long stretches. There are plenty of other dangerous roads too… a few years ago, they barreled down this one:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Trambileno,+Italy&aq=0&sll=45.841238,11.076193&sspn=0.047596,0.132093&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Trambileno+Province+of+Trento,+Trentino-Alto+Adige%2FS%C3%BCdtirol,+Italy&ll=45.840281,11.076365&spn=0.023679,0.066047&t=p&z=15&layer=c&cbll=45.840609,11.076253&panoid=9WVQo8WMsmSOEgoU1A0hEA&cbp=12,342.73,,0,13.32

Not as high up, but not a road where you’d want to go over the side.

michael May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Anyone who thinks some of the tour descents are any cleaner, easier or less dangerous are deluding themselves. The Petit-St-Bernard comes to mind for one. ASO just does a good job of nipping bad press in the bud and “sanitizing“ the coverage of descents to such an extreme that we rarely actually see the worse bits. There are just as many dodgy corners, big drop offs and unprotected road side concrete blocks (anyone remember Casartelli`s crash) in the TDF.

The only thing that bothers me is the non-sealed surface, though I have read elsewhere this morning that that issue has apparently now been taken care of.

FYI, the caravan is being kept off the Crostis. Neutral support only.

Visko May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

¿Hace anyone seen the enormous ravine the Aubisque road has in the Cirque du Litor? And there’s no netting there, so if you go…you go all the way down. Or the descesnt of the Port de Bales, norrow, with ravines…

Anyway, there will be NO gravel roads in the Monte Crostis. They used a special surface, the same we saw in the Monte Catria 3% descent in 2009… and hardly anybody noticed it in TV becouse it’s better than some roads. It’s new, it has bitumen and a road flattener works on it the days before.

So you have nets, padding, people to rescue you, an helicopter right there, more medics, no cars, less motorbikes… to me that’s sounds safer than any downhill ever.

Andrew May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Reminds me of the Red Bull Road Rage downhill events (DH-format road races: http://www.redbullroadrage.com/). Needless to say, not thrilled to see a Giro stage that looks like a cheesy energy drink commercial.

Oliver May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I think the distinction between borrowing and creating the landscape you mentioned is crucial. That’s a shift in paradigm — let’s hope it is the exception….

The Inner Ring May 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm

beev: true but no rider can say no. It’s like a worker in a car factory turning up for work in the plant and saying “today I feel like building a boat”, the employer simply doesn’t offer most workers the choice. Only a few riders get choice here.

Melbin: I know what you mean but a lot has changed since those days. In Europe at least we don’t send hundreds of thousands to die in wars, children aren’t made to work and people in a job have a right to certain levels of safety. This attitude reaches cycling and sport, don’t forget it is very much a job for the riders and not an extreme/adventure sport. Fans often differ but that’s the rider/employee view.

Visko: are you sure it’s all bitumen? I thought it is flattened for the race but still loose? My point isn’t the safety in case a rider crashes (eg nets, medics etc), the course where crashes are more common is a change.

Andrew: yes, see http://inrng.com/?p=3124

Michael: For sure there are big drops in any Alpine race, whether it’s the Giro, Tour or even a cyclotouring ride. It’s the surface that’s different, it’s being compacted but it is still very irregular and also quite narrow. I’ve not seen this in any other race for such a steep descent.

Like I say, let’s hope it all goes well but it marks a change were the landscape is changed for the race and for me this is a small but significant change.

Owen May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm

My issue was the surface, if that’s been sorted there is no issue, though I do believe the whole tour is perhaps too hard.
Regarding other races, I’ll second the comment about the Petit St Bernard descent, I’ve done it on a motor bike and there’s a huge drop, and I’m sure Jens Voight will testify to the state of the surface after his 2009 crash.

Flashing Pedals May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Crostis is a descent to make you think.
But sometimes in races, to be competitive you have to ‘forget’ risk and what ifs.
That is not a disrespectful comment in light of Wouters accident, just reality.
The concern here is that the road cambers are opposites, its a heavily patched road, and is sprinkled with loose gravel.
It twists and turns dips and dives, with the increasing speed, you get thrown all over the place, which will mess up the lines into the next bend.

I’d actually be more concerned at spectators falling off the road, or being nudged mid race by team cars.
Whether race organisers now consider working on the flaws that many of their established events ‘ignore or overlook’ will be interesting to see, but for me, i dont actually want to see padded bends, or plastic nets stretched over corners without barriers.

Thats not for any gruesome possibility, but the moment race organisers start planning race routes based on Health & Safety ‘risk assesment groups’ then its the time to leave.

Andrew May 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

inrng: Whoops, clearly missed reading over the weekend!

beev May 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

…then that car builder leaves and becomes a boat builder! after all, we are all free to choose our professions.

in terms of bad/dangerous descents i have ridden;

Portet D’Aspet – simply because there are some steep sections + a lot of the east-west descent is very green, with a lot of tree overhang making for damp conditions. thankfully though, those horrible concrete blocks have been largely removed – as is the case on many climbs – but not all

Col de Sarenne – 6 metre wide cobbled drainage gullys, broken/unsealed road and plenty of gravel make this a real b1tch. The wind doesn’t help either. Shame though – as it would be great to see the Tour de this rather than always finish on Alpe D’Huez, as it connects up nicely for the Lauteret and beyond….

rob May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm

What a bunch of cry-babies… this descent looks tough to a bunch of wide lane north american fatties who postulate cycling wisdom from their desks but in reality, it’s just a fun, challenging bit of course that anyone who enjoys riding a bike will love to rip down. Toughen up, you pack of pansies.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale May 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm

To me, this descent is the place Nibali can win the race. An attack at the summit of the Crostis and a Savoldellian drop to the foot of the Zoncolan could drop Contador could gain minutes of time and/or exhaust him just before the hardest climb of the Giro.

All the more reason for the road to be safe.

Angelo May 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm

here was Contador in late April on recon of the Crostis (the Crostis portion is from 00:36 to 02:33), “It gives me fear” :
http://italiancyclingjournal.blogspot.com/2011/04/contador-on-monte-crostis-descent.html
One of the drivers comments that he hopes it snows so that the stage doesn’t have to be ridden.

Miso Kuropka May 18, 2011 at 12:09 am

The race is as hard as the racers make it. The same applies to the descent. On Saturday, it is going to be as dangerous as the racers make it. I consider the road stretch shown on the video safe. My friends and I been training for months to ride the Crostis and Zolcolan before the peloton. If the weather is bearable, we all still hope to make it to the top and back. And to the certain extent, we will also be racing. Safely (to the certain extent). And if we (hopefully) can make it, pros should have no problem doing so. With much much greater style, panache and fervor.

Secondly, I believe that the work safety standards are irrelevant in this case. Pro cyclists are freelancers, not employees. The higher risk is compensated by many benefits (money!!!).

Aleko May 18, 2011 at 1:10 am

Great course and great effort from Zomegnan to make sure the race is safe. The steratto section is actually dead flat and by the time of the downhill the peloton would be down to pieces. Nobody is forced to bomb the descent anyway.

The whining is a bit over the top.

Eduardo May 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

This will be a fabulous stage, kudos to Angelo Zomegnan & his staff. Angelo, can you please take over the Tour of California? Please? We have just been robbed of 2 stages in Tahoe in the name of “safety” – by soft- bellied worry warts afraid of the cool and damp conditions that sometimes occur in nature. One suggestion: place the nets horizontally instead of vertically – makes for better sight lines, and if someone overshoots the corner, they would not be knocked back (possibly into someone else’s line).
If there are cyclists unwilling to race, well, bike racing is a job, a job I would love to have if they don’t want it. To them I say: I hear Walmart is hiring.

Owen May 18, 2011 at 9:16 am

Eduardo, I presume you’re joking about the Tour of California?
“Cool and damp.” I presume you mean freezing and 6 inches of snow. You can’t race a road bike in that.

Aleko, “nobody is forced to bomb the descent anyway.” The racers are, it’s their job. Many will need to make up what they lost on the climb before tackling the next one in order to stay inside the cut off time.

I really must stop rising to the bait.

Andy Raff May 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

In the big mountain sections will the cut-off time limits remain the same?
Do they go propotionally up depending on the severity of the stage?
Or could we see many riders being eliminated?

I freak out about a local downhill section (about 6km at 5% with around 1km over 10%).
So seeing this is quite mental to me really!

The Inner Ring May 18, 2011 at 9:38 am

Beev: word is ASO have looked up the Sarenne… but rejected it after seeing the surface and the regional govt refused to resurface it just for the race.

Andy: cut-off limits vary from stage to stage, the harder/longer the stage the longer the delay allowed.

Eduardo May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Owen: I am not joking. Of course, I live in Tahoe, so I ride in the snow regularly. Which is beside the point, as the snow was not sticking to the road surface (except in one short section which is completely flat, just lined with trees so no sun). Look up Andy Hampsten’s 1988 triumph on the Gavia – in a snowstorm – a career defining moment.
Moving the start of stage 2 to Nevada City was absurd. By the morning the roads were completely dry. Sure it was 32F – not the most comfortable temp to ride in – but bike racing is a job, and if riders are unwilling to do the job they were hired to, they can always go dig ditches, or serve fast food etc..
IMO, bike racing should be about more than just who can pedal up the hill fastest. Bike handling skills should be tested just as often.

Aleko May 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Whoever is fatigued or not a good bike handler should take it easy on the steratto flat and on the descent. They will lose 20-30 seconds, a minute max. This section is followed by Zoncolan where the gaps can be more than 10 times larger.

Their job is to win races. It is a really a strenuous argument to blame the flat steratto section or the downhill in the middle of the stage for missing the cut or potentially missing a win.

My job is to be at work on time. If I am late for an important meeting should I speed or run a yellow light knowing full well that it’s dangerous? Probably not, I should have taken off earlier (climbed the Crostis better). If I couldn’t then I should take the punishment, miss the meeting (time cut off) and live to fight another day.

I understand that people use complaining about Monte Crostis as a coping mechanism for Wouter Weylandt tragic death but enough is enough – the two things are hardly related at all.

Aleko May 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm

The jury decided to skip Crostis descent…

http://www.gazzetta.it/Speciali/Giroditalia/it/20-05-2011/giro-salta-crostis-801275796434.shtml

I hope it is due to bad weather and not because of political correctness.

I personally am a little disappointed but of course the Jury knows best and safety is number 1 priority. Oh well…

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