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Paris Roubaix Level Crossing Train

In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others

That’s a line from Voltaire’s Candide. After the battle of Minorca between France and Britain in 1756, Voltaire describes the British practice of shooting naval officers if they fail, not so much to punish them for mistakes but to send a signal to the others not to let down His Majesty. “Pour encourager les autres”.

What’s this got to do with bike racing? Well the incident in last Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix where some ignored closed barriers at a level crossing requires exemplary action from the UCI. In the interests of safety the UCI has to view video and photographic evidence and disqualify those who ignored the closed barriers.

As for what happened last Sunday, it’s easy to understand. The race speeds towards the crossing only for the lights and bells to start ringing. Legally this is when the motorist and the cyclist on an ordinary day must stop. But the UCI rules are more generous to a racer: they say stop when the “barrier is down”.

Rightly or wrongly the rules suggest riders can ignore the lights and bells, only a closed barrier is sufficient, nitpickers would note that a closing barrier is fair game for vélo-limbo. Fair enough, it’s loud, riders aren’t looking out for traffic lights and they’re in battle mode. In a race you can imagine being 20 metres away when the warning bell rings and you can’t stop safely. Only the next rider behind will follow and the next behind him. Soon some riders will have noted the warnings but they see rivals continuing so they push on too. It’s a chain reaction and a bit like being in a stadium where if the person in front of you for a game or a gig stands up then you stand up to see over them and in no time everyone is standing: one person’s actions prompt everyone to mimic them.

Then the gates start closing. Again a rider might see the barrier moving but he’s more interested in the rider ahead of him. “If he’s got across then I have to as well” is the instinctive reaction. There’s also the supposition of safety in numbers. Now you might be thinking they ought to stop when the barriers move but you’re not in the biggest, baddest race of the year seeing your rivals get ahead of you. It’s this competitive imperative that drives the riders on, including the Cannondale-Garmin and BMC Racing riders on Sunday who sees the gates are closed and the gesticulating gendarme… and cross the tracks. See the video of this on Youtube.

So far, so explanatory but it’s important to understand the pressure, the motivation and the instinct to race. But there’s one obvious problem with this: it’s deadly. Imagine the rider who almost stops, shifts to a lower gear and drops their chain mid-crossing, feet pedalling but going nowhere as the train approaches. Better still, don’t.

The UCI has to act: the governing body is reviewing the matter but it should know its own clear rules: “offending riders shall be eliminated”. Now they weren’t upheld on Sunday but the UCI rules aren’t temporary: they exist before a race, during a race and after a race. So if the commissaires didn’t uphold the rules in the heat of the moment then a cooler head has to do so after the event. The idea last Sunday is that the commissaires were too far back to identify those who crossed when the barriers were down and it’s legitimate to put this down to the “fog of war”, certainly the commissaires can’t be everywhere in a race. But the UCI can look at photos and videos, they’re are plenty given this is one of the biggest races of the year. If anything the conduct has to be exemplary so that younger riders learn what to do.

Now DQ’ing riders isn’t out of the desire to harm those riders who crossed the tracks last Sunday. Perhaps you’re cross and would like to punish them but try to be level and understand their instincts, however reckless. Instead disqualification isn’t about last Sunday, it’s about the next time. It’s needed to send a clear message. Because the next time a rider is approaching a crossing and the lights are flashing and the gates are closing they need to make a split second calculation and knowing that to continue will result in certain disqualification will ensure they stop. In a race anyone at the back of the group is operating on survival instinct and only primal reasoning works. Forget Swiss Franc fines or nuanced probabilities about the chance of being caught. Only the certainty of disqualification appeals to the brain.

Across the tracks
No one takes your back
– Maceo and the Macks

Cheating: the UCI has added pressure to act having recently published its CIRC Report. While a lot of the focus fell on doping the writers did dwell on the deontology of cheating, whether taking a risky but as yet not banned substance or the tales of hidden motors in bikes. All well and good but not half as dangerous as trying to slip past a 250 tonne train approaching at 100km/h while a more ethical rider waits for the barriers to open.

The law: as well as the ethics there’s the law. Crossing the tracks is illegal and the SNCF, the French railways, have already filed a complaint with the police. If the UCI doesn’t act to sanction the riders perhaps this will only encourage the police to follow-up?

Paris Roubaix map

Finally some specific things for Paris-Roubaix:

  • One level crossing can hide another: as the map above shows the race criss-crosses the same railway line again and again
  • To those who say skip the sections with the railway risk, ok, but say goodbye to the Arenberg trench section which is preceded by the same line.
  • The trains in France won’t stop for the race. We’d like them to but you can’t suspend a busy line connecting Paris and Valenciennes that’s fed by industrial and freight routes. A lot of work is done to time the race but the best plans can go wrong
  • The irony is this happened at the entrance to the “Pont Gibus” section where “Gibus” graffiti, the nickname of past winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, is painted on the foundations of an old railway bridge which if it was still in use would mean none of this would have happened
Pont Gibus

Conclusion
The rules are clear: riders are supposed to be disqualified during a race by the commissaires. For various reasons this didn’t happen but the UCI shouldn’t allow its own officials to flout their own rules. Whatever next? Once the rules become optional the UCI’s legitimacy is up for debate. Now sometimes breaking the rules doesn’t matter, say, the use of rainbow decals on a bike because it’s not a big deal. In the case of a level crossing the argument is so much stronger.

It’s harsh to disqualify the riders and under the rules those crossing when the lights flash and even squeezing under moving barriers maybe get a pass. But some still went when the barriers were locked down and this can’t be tolerated. It might be farcical to revise the race results ex post but it’s happened before. Above all to disqualify a rider isn’t about them and their ride last Sunday it’s about the next time. The UCI has to be exemplary to encourage the others.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tomski Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 12:53 pm

    Agreed. None of the offenders should escape penalty.

    The commisaires neutralised the race to allow those stuck to regain their positions and the offending riders must have known this would be the case.

    A gravely dangerous episode which set a terrible example to all.

    As you mentioned Inrng if any rider had suffered a dropped chain (not uncommon on the quickstep team this year) the outcome could have been a whole lot worse.

    At the end of the day it is one race amongst many this year and common sense must prevail.

    • Vedrafjord Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:46 pm

      Unless they were told otherwise (and it hasn’t come out that they were), we have no reason to believe that the riders knew the race would be neutralised to allow them to get back. Here’s what the rulebook says:

      3. If one or more leading riders make it over the crossing before the gates shut and the remainder of the riders are held up, no action shall be taken and the closed level crossing shall be considered a race incident.

      I have some sympathy for riders who presumably thought their race was over if they didn’t get through the crossing before the train.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 2:26 am

      I agree – Martin Elmiger stopped and managed to finish 5th – I think this speaks for itself

  • Matt Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:02 pm

    I don’t care who they were, including Wiggo in hist last World Tour race, Demare the French champ, etc. The UCI need to grow a pair and disqualify them all. As you say, they need to send a very clear message this this is not tolerated. Maybe even bring in a new rule in the future to dock points from riders who do this.

    They also need to work out how to better deal with this kind of thing splitting the race. It’s not just about a breakaway going though and saying “well, if the peloton were keeping up, then they wouldn’t get stuck”. As we saw, the lights could start just as the motos go through, or they could split the commissaire car from the race.

    • Adrian Miles Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 4:23 am

      Agree. The one thing I like about golf is the respect everyone has for its rules, so even the very best golfers in the world know that if they, for example, sign a score card that is incorrect they are disqualified. It does not matter who they are, what tournament, or whether they are leaving. Not only are the rules followed, but there seems to be an assumption that part of the game is to accept this sometimes arbitrary fate. The road laws and racing rules are not that complicated unless everyone wants to pretend they are lawyers. Yes, it could be unfair, but has is it any unfair then being hit by neutral service/receiving a poor wheel change from neutral service. Finally, given the complaints about bollards on finishing straights and rider’s safety, you look like idiots if you complain about that then play chicken with a train. If you’re serious about safety, then you sort of need to show that you take your own safety seriously first, otherwise you can’t expect others to follow suit.

  • Guy Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:06 pm

    Do any of the top 10 face the threat of disqualification?

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:10 pm

      I think so. See the YouTube link above. There are clear hi-red pics for the UCI too. But I deliberately tried to avoid riders so we don’t focus too much on the who and think more about the what, how etc.

      • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:15 pm

        But when would it have been safe for a rider to pull on the brakes and not be clobbered by the people behind (and thrown onto the tracks)? Who judges that?
        Also, with all the hyperbole about potential catastrophe, it’s worth bearing in mind that even with the BMC rider, it wasn’t a near-miss: 7 seconds.

        • Igam Ogam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:17 pm

          At cruising speed the train would have covered close to half a kilometre in seven seconds GVA would not have seen it before he decided to chance it. At theoretical maximum speed it could cover the last kilometre in less time than it takes you to dodge two barriers and wobble over the crossing.

          The rules as they stand are logical based on a long history of practical usage but perhaps the time gaps should be changed to reflect the higher speeds of current trains and there should be provision for advance neutralisation based on second by second data from the rail companies.

          • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:25 pm

            But in reality the train was going pretty slowly: presumably the rider could judge that speed in the same way as you do when you cross a road.
            I’m not saying he was right; just that this wasn’t a near catastrophe (not even for the rider – a train would never be derailed by hitting a person).
            Simple solutions are available: proper marshalling at train crossings, guarantees of race neutralisation (rather than the opposite rule that we have now), etc. Then, you can DQ riders who transgress.
            As it is, in this situation, it seems to have primarily been the motorbikes who decided to keep going – and is one of those a commissaire?

          • channel_zero Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:35 pm

            Here we go again with the UCI and “the rules.”

            Since this is the UCI and they don’t follow their own voluminous rules most of the time, this will likely end in an unsatisfactory press release that leaves the results intact. IMO, the best we’ll ever get is the UCI revising the rule a bit to define when the crossing warning is going off means stop and some officiating clarification.

            If Cookson were actually serious about cleaning up the sport he’d do the DQ’s along with a statement that boils down to “Train crossings are a part of the sport. Riders put themselves and the race itself at risk. That’s not okay.” But the Management Committee would howl in protest and he’s not going to go against the Management Committee.

          • Al__S Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 11:51 pm

            What’s the typical maximum speed on a line such as this? Forget what the train is capable of, it doesn’t get onto the LGV until after Arras; before then a TGV is restricted to the same speeds as a TER service- in this case, the line is marked on the map here as being between 100-120km/h maximum speed: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/TER_Nord-Pas-de-Calais#/media/File:Nord_Pas-de-Calais_-_Railway_infrastructure_map_-_fr.svg

            Now, a train doing 100km/h will still kill you very dead indeed. but lets all- journalists, internet commentators etc- stop going as if this was a high speed railway just because it was being used by a TGV

          • dave Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 6:00 am

            >> there should be provision for advance neutralisation based on second by second data from the rail companies. <<

            YES!

            It's inexcusable that there's not already a way for the commisaires to monitor the trains via gps data and control the race accordingly.

            This is the one case where race radios would be invaluable to enhance safety, yet they aren't using them. It's really unbelievable how amateurish the business side of cycling is.

          • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:13 am

            Dave, it’s only a bike race, fitting GPS trackers to trains and then monitoring their movement would require some sort of ASO Mission Control war room to monitor.

            Also note trains don’t run to a fixed schedule, for example the freight train that stopped Hoste, Gusev and Van Petegem was operated by a private company and had a 30 minute slot to use that section of track so it’s impossible to know when the freight train would pass.

          • Ironfist Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:53 am

            Position of every single train is known to the railway dispatching (not necessarily via GPS but definitely via railway security systems with accuracy about one kilometre and probably much less in France, especially on important lanes, which is well sufficient). Its all about communication. All it takes is to ask the railway dispatching for the data and providing them online to the commissaires who could easily neutralize the race in case both the peloton (or its part) and a train would be nearing the same level crossing. Easy, cheap and effective.

          • Nick Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:51 pm

            SNCF will have know where the train was, and when the crossing was going to be activated. ASO/UCI could have obtained that information and used it to neutralise if desired.

  • Quizzical Eyebrow Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:09 pm

    I saw a suggestion that the commissaires had not felt the need to disqualify, not only because of the difficulties of identification, but also because the race was neutralised so nobody gave an advantage.

    This repeats the common mistake of confusing safety regulations with sporting ones. F1 does this a lot, such as when Alonso went unpenalised with mechanics on the grid as the rest of the cars were setting off last year. These rules are there to stop people being killed, and they should be non-negotiable.

    • Igam Ogam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:26 pm

      Rule 2.3.035 is clear about the procedure when a race is split by road infrastructure and the riders know this. This was a textbook “race incident” as defined in the rules and anyone slaloming/limboing needs to face the consequences. Neutralisation was after the fact and not warranted, I wouldn’t want to be the Chief Commissaire in this instance but the decision to neutralise was a bad call and ignores the rules and the many instances of precedence.

      • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:32 pm

        That’s completely absurd, that rule is the reason the riders wanted to risk their lives and jump across the track. Neutralising the race was 100% the right call, if it was clear from the start any gaps caused by a badly timed train would be neutralised there’d be no reason to try and jump across.

        • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:53 pm

          +1

          Get rid of the “it’s a racing incident” attitude, make it clear that nobody will gain any advantage at all from jumping a level crossing, and a large part of the problem should go away.

          There will be nothing to gain in the race and, potentially, much to lose in your life.

          Combine this with some of the sensible suggestions on here regarding marshalling the crossings in liaison with traffic police already stationed at the crossings in advance as well as real-time communication with the relevant railway staff.

          That should make another large part of the problem go away.

          Think about, and manage, the problem rather than beating people over the head with a stick.

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 2:16 am

          No, it’s more likely that riders jumped the track because they didn’t want to risk getting dropped from those ahead of them, and felt there was little chance of such a large group getting DQ’d. If riders had 100% confidence that riders breaking the rule would be DQ’d then they could just stop knowing that all those ahead of them would no longer be in the race.

          • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:29 pm

            If riders had 100% confidence that the race would be neutralised then they could just stop knowing there’s no advantage to risking their life jumping the crossing.

  • Igam Ogam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:09 pm

    Frankly, the UCI should let the Police fine/imprison the guilty parties first and then strip them of the result. That way there will be complete clarity on what is the outcome of doing this. I’m sure a few riders watching the tour from the slammer will drive the point home.

  • Disgruntled Goat Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:12 pm

    Lief Hoste is gnashing his teeth somewhere at all of this

    • garuda Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 5:38 pm

      Agreed. A group of 3, with his teammate Gusev and Van Pete, with Cancellara only 30 seconds ahead at the time. They knew almost immediately after the crossing that they’ll probably be disqualified, so that sure does dampen the drive to chase.

      Also remember that Boonen set off after those 3 BEFORE the barrier was up as well. The rule was do not cross when the barrier is down, and not after a train passes. The rule was definitely flouted for the world champ but not for some lowly domestiques.

      Justice for Van Pete, Hoste and the Goose.

  • RayG Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:15 pm

    And some others then started riding after the train passed but while the barriers were still down. Still against the rules? How did they know another train wasn’t coming the other way, hidden by the first train?

    • eddy merks Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:20 pm

      It’s against the letter, yes. The barriers were down. I guess they were only free to ride on once the barriers started to come up

  • Sam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:17 pm

    Prison sentences…Over-reaction, much?

    Bring back hanging…and they can consider themselves lucky etc etc

    • Igam Ogam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:20 pm

      If two riders fought the UCI would sanction them. If however one rider killed another in the process would you leave it to sporting justice?

      This discrepancy of one rule for sports-people and another for everyone else is stupid. If you break the law of the land that should take precedence over any sports rule book, whether it be murder, causing a train wreck or doping which is a type of fraud. Bike races are run with the agreement of the state in which they are being held and behaviour like this is outside both the rules of racing and more importantly the laws of France.

      If a rider had been killed and a train derailed killing innocent passengers (eminently possible) would you still feel the same?

      • Sam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 10:49 pm

        Calling for prison sentences is well over-the-top. And you should see that.

        • rk Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 2:26 pm

          well crossing a level crossing is not really sentenced with prison, except maybe if your a murderer on parole. i guess you have to pay a (considerable) fine.

  • Hammarling Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:18 pm

    I can barely count the number of times i’ve seen a rider slip and fall on tram tracks in a town/city center. All it takes is one ever so slightly misplaced wheel for a rider to fall on the tracks, then he’s on the ground with a train coming at them…. But he’s crashed mid-pack at 50km/h, so now there’s 10 or 20 riders piled on the tracks and we’ve gone from a horibble incident to something beyond comprehension.

    It’s not an excuse but there is reason for some riders going across because they would physically be unable to stop in time. But that can only apply to a number of riders, the rest were making concious decisions to ignore the lights, bells, closing barriers and police.
    Take the train away for a moment and a rider could do serious damange to themselves just by hitting their head on the closing barrier. High speed right across the head and we are talking about concussions, fractures or possibly worse. Put the train back in and we are back to the scenario where a rider has crashed onto the tracks without time to move.

    As Inrng made efforts to say, it’s about stopping the situation happening again in the future. You can see the U23’s doing it. Amateurs, Juniors and other pros can see these riders getting off free so why would they stop? In 2006 2nd and 3rd places were DQ’d so there shouldn’t be an issue of devaluing the result. It’s about the riders.
    And at the end of a week where riders have been complaining about safety in Pais Vasco. All their hard work campaiging for extreme weather and course safety is just about undone in 10 seconds.

    A Sunday In Hell… could have had a totally different meaning

    • Schwarzwald Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:47 pm

      I don’t think that it can be understated how dangerous that situation was. As Hammerling mentions, how often have we seen rail tracks cause an incident on our club rides. They’re more dangerous the slower the group goes. Imagine one of the riders bumping the barrier, losing balance just as he’s crossing the tracks riding more parallel to them than normal. He falls. What ensues is a couple other low speed riders tumbling while attempting to unclip. A tangle of bikes is inevitable and requires the normal 45 seconds to get off the ground and resume riding. Now add the fact that a locomotive is baring down on that pile of riders.

      In the same way that a motorsport event holds a drivers’ meeting before the race begins, so should this event and drive home the rules of the day. Repeat it over and over again. Use the official race radio when approaching every rail crossing. Apparently, the pros and ds’s who argued for them had no use of them Sunday.

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:23 am

        It can be understated. Pretty easily.
        But there’s not much danger of that from some of the “hang ’em and flog ’em” types flaming away at their keyboards the last couple of days.
        😉

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:56 am

          +1

  • eddy merks Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:18 pm

    The UCI have to apply DQs or sanctions for all riders who jumped across once the barriers were down. This can’t become another rule that no one pays heed to (see the short lived consistently ignored rule about riding off the road) because it’s exceptionally dangerous not just for the riders, gendarme and the support caravan; but also the trains who have nothing to do with the race.

    It’s also unnecessary considering the group that got across will probably neutralise and allow the rest to catch up. If the UCI can help enforce this as part of the level crossing rule then perhaps the instinctive panic to get across and stay in the race won’t be so strong knowing that you’ll be allowed to catch up.

    Another problem, is that the short clip of the few riders who crossed after the bunch stopped has done the rounds on the internet and has further galvanised the general public’s disdain towards everyday cyclists. This may not bother the pros too much, but it doesn’t help us fans when we’re out and about on our own bikes and (hopefully) obeying the law. It doesn’t help the already murky image of pro-cycling, and it doesn’t help the image of everyday cycling…

    • portemat Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:11 pm

      A very good point… the abuse all cyclist get due to those who jump red lights / scare pedestrians is staggering.

    • Overafton Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:21 pm

      +1

  • Leo T Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:20 pm

    You point out an interesting conundrum about the barriers being “down” as the point of no return. Maybe UCI should issue some guidance – if the cyclist makes contact with the barrier, or has to take avoiding action to not make contact with the barrier, then the barrier is “down”.

    Maybe they should pre-announce that they will carry out the same kind of neutralisation they did on Sunday and so assuage riders from risking their lives.

    One other point that’s been missed – some riders started crossing after the train but before the barriers started to rise – they need to be addressed too, as there’s no guarantee there isn’t another train coming.

    Maybe the organisers could install temporary footbridges that can be crossed cyclocross style in case the barriers come down 🙂

    • DisgruntledGoat Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:30 pm

      “Maybe the organisers could install temporary footbridges that can be crossed cyclocross style in case the barriers come down ”

      This is, perversely, more difficult to do than to have a race cross the railway. You need to apply months in advance for a “possession” of the line, the train company then has to close it whilst you install and, later, dismantle the bridge plus (in the UK at least) they cost about £20,000 per hour.

  • melbin rider Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:24 pm

    Totally understand the motivation of the riders. We’ve got a local bunch ride here in Melbourne which sucks you into the same mentality where orange traffic lights half way through the bunch mean everyone goes full gas lest the bunch splits and you never get back on. It was only until the police starting escorting the bunch and fining riders running red lights that behaviour changed. You would have thought personal safety would have been enough, but in the moment normal rational humans become much less so. Fining and DQing after the race would be best for all, an accident would be a much worse outcome, changing behaviour takes time but there are levers that can be pulled.

  • Lee H Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:29 pm

    Of all the noise from the peloton re: rider health and safety when it is too cold / hot / wet, or when there are dangerous bollards in the road and yet there’s a strange silence on this matter!

  • RayG Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:30 pm

    The youtube video shows the lights already flashing when the lead motos go through. Is one of those a commissaire? Maybe they should have stopped the front of the peloton.

    • Ben Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:42 pm

      That was my thought, the comm’s should have known the crossing may close and had someone there already. The riders on the very front of the bunch at the time immediately knew they’d crossed a closing crossing with lights flashing (you can see the double take and hear the fans exclamations). Applying the van petegem 2006 rules, surely basically everyone in the bunch (other than those who waited) should have been DQ’s – iro 100 riders (from the Skys on the front to GVA – the last man over). But do we now DQ degenkolb, stybar, GVA, and almost everyone in the top 20?

      • Sam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 10:51 pm

        They were all in that group.

  • Disgruntled Goat Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:32 pm

    You’d think the untimely death of Kristof Goddaert after slipping on some tram tracks in Antwerp last year would give some pause for thought, espcially in the Iam team…

    I don’t know what the solution to this is, post-fact DQs will have no effect whatsoever, 2 weeks suspension if you went under the moving barrier?

    There’s a video doing the rounds from the U23 Ronde with a GB rider really cutting it fine at the bottom of the stationberg as well, without coming over all Helen Lovejoy, something must be done. This is a dangerous blindspot in the rules that has been exposed and it’s up to the governing body to close it. As INRNG points out, it is just cheating.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:42 pm

    Quoting Voltaire and Maceo & the Macks in the same post – we truly do not deserve you!

    • Calypso_King Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:08 pm

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Andy Loveland Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:44 pm

    Yet another great post; absolutely spot on.

    As you point out, it’s about driving future behaviour as much as anything.

    THe UCI, and perhaps the ASO for that matter, have to act to send a clear signal that this will not be tolerated in the future.

  • Alastair Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:44 pm

    As well as applying the rules the UCI should tighten them; the barrier bit is clearly mad.

    The YouTube clip shows the lights flashing & barriers descending before the first rider crosses. It would have taken just a handful of the lead riders to avert the whole sorry episode.

  • S Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 1:48 pm

    It not just about the riders. Think of the train driver and the life-long psychological impact on him/her of ploughing through the peloton at 200 km/h.

    A proposal: races should be transiently neutralised 200 m short of a crossing and a speed limit imposed in the neutral zone (20 km/h say), then allowed to resume 50 m after the crossing.

    • Matt Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:51 pm

      I think this is a great idea. If the whole bunch know in advance that every rail crossing will have a neutralised zone, then it would come as no surprise. The main bunches can each have the lead motos signal and slow down everyone as they pass through.

      The biggest issue is how to police it for everyone. It might be simple to have a lead escort bike for the breakaway, and 2 or 3 main bunches, but what about that rider chasing back through the cars who desperately wants to get back on but doesn’t have a commissaire nearby? Who stops them? Static cameras at each section/crossing? Do something with the riders’ timing chips?

      • irungo txuletak Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:50 pm

        But guys, there is a rail crossing just 20 meters before beginning arenberg cobbles. This would be no good for the race in question, unless ASO finds another way to enter the pavé.

  • Simon Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:00 pm

    I agree entirely, but one aspect is missing here. On top of the heat of competition driving you to chase the guy in front, there is also a strong compulsion not to touch your brakes whilst doing 50kph in a bunch. Who wants to be “the d**k that grabs his brakes whenever he sees a red light”? If you grab the brakes hard enough to stop when you see the barrier going, it seems almost certain there will be a crash.

    Couldn’t the race organisers work with SNCF to get some kind of advance warning so they can pre-emptively neutralise on the approach to a crossing which is about to close? This kind of technology is starting to be bandied about with traffic lights on the road (no-one is really sure what to do with it, they make noises about helping you save fuel by timing your driving to hit the green lights and other such far-fetched ideas…).

    • Cam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 5:49 pm

      … pre-emptively neutralise on the approach to a crossing which is about to close
      +1
      Seems the best way round it to me

      • benDE Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 9:48 pm

        ‘pre-emptively neutralize the race’

        Wow, in a race like Paris Roubaix where there may be up to ten groups out on the road. . . Now that sounds like a nightmare which will please no one. The timegaps on the television are often completely wrong between only two groups. Imagine sorting out ten! How? Figure this all out by the time the gates go back up or is Monday morning okay for everyone?

        ‘this technology is beginning to be bandied about . . .’
        The technology whereby there is an early warning system when trains are approaching? Ah, isn’t that what the flashing lights and gates do?

        The rule is okay, its enforcement is what is lacking. Just as there were fewer ‘flying repairs’ in the first races this year, we now see them all the time off the back because the peloton knows the new rule will not be enforced, the same is true of the crossing.

        The only change I would suggest is that it be changed to indication/warning signal of a train approaching being the cut off as I assume some races go through crossings without gates. What then?

  • Jon C Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:01 pm

    Think the comms really bottled this one. Poor old Cavendish has faced many a DQ based upon video evidence but in this scenario “we were too far back so could not possibly see” seems to be the stance. Crikey, it is one of the biggest races there is so numerous video footage is available. Post race review and 30 mins after the race and all would have been sorted.

  • Cilmeri Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:02 pm

    Agree 100%. At the very least the riders (such as the BMC one) who came to a stop, looked down the track then went should very easily be identified and disqualified. There are others in a grey-er position eg one rider ducked under the barrier and knocked it with his helmet.

    Would a future suspension prove to be a greater deterrent? I guess occasionally a 2 week suspension may just clash with a training block so that wouldn’t work.

  • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:02 pm

    One of the problems is that riders don’t know that a race will be neutralised. We need a rule that means they know it absolutely will be. As pointed out above, the riders know that the race might well not be neutralised.
    As for whether or not a barrier is fully down, that’s going to be a grey area and it’s going to be hard to decide who should be DQ’d and who not.
    Also, is it really fair to DQ someone who goes around a barrier and not someone who dodges under it?
    And where do you draw the line at who would have been able to safely stop and who wouldn’t?
    Some sensible comments above, like neutralising the race either side of tracks and Leo T on what makes a barrier ‘down’.
    I seem to be in a minority of one about not DQing riders – the rules are not clear enough. That is not to say that the riders were not at fault – especially the very last ones.
    Overall, I think there should have been a commisaire standing there stopping the race. This is one of the two main faults. The other is that the motorbike in front of the riders goes through when the lights are flashing. It should have stopped and then flagged to the riders to stop. Then, if they don’t stop, they’re at fault.
    I still don’t know why the authorities don’t make the barriers cover the entire width of the road – for general use as much as weaving cyclists.

    • Tovarishch Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:21 pm

      So that if a car gets stuck on the crossing when the barriers come down it has an escape route.

      • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:28 pm

        But a barrier across the entire road would usually stop that from happening.
        Also, if your car is on a crossing in front of a train, you are not going to be prevented from exiting the railway tracks by a flimsy plastic barrier (that rider nearly took one out).

        • Tovarishch Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:41 pm

          That is the reason for half-barrier crossings. I’m not saying whether it is right or wrong.

          • Foley Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:56 pm

            It’s right. There was a train-car tragedy in the New York suburbs recently that involved a car trapped by the barriers.

            And the race will NOT be neutralized when riders are stopped by a train– that directly undermines the safety message of the rule, which says “don’t do it.” That is the conundrum facing riders who have to stop. If it were always possible to rectify the interruption of the race none of this would be hard to deal with. How do you stop or neutralize everyone who may be up the road already, when a trailing group gets stopped? I’m torn as to what the UCI should do next, as a big mistake has already been made by the race comissaires. I can see Inrng’s point about putting safety first (and following the rules, however belatedly), but DQ-ing the podium sounds like a problem, as much as a solution. I’ll propose withholding all prize money for every team that had a member pass the barriers. Anyone who squawks has the option of being DQ-ed instead.

          • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:35 pm

            Foley, those flimsy barriers are never going to stop a car – they barely stopped a man on a bike – even if they stretch all the way across the road. I don’t know what happenend in NY or if it’s applicable here, but having those barriers all the way across the road is never going to stop a car. It just isn’t.
            There have been cases where riders have been stopped for a period of time as compensation for the delay of others.
            If you don’t promise a neutralisation then the risk-taking is inevitable.

        • Kjetil Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:40 pm

          There’s a level crossing on my routine training route. It’s got full barriers designed to collapse if a car needs to escape e.g. after a stall.

          • Foley Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 1:18 am

            Dropping the barrier discussion. The current rules differentiate between train stoppages that are considered “race incidents” (no intervention by commissaires), versus train stoppages that can result in neutralization. My point was that some of the race incidents MUST be accepted as such because there is no practical way to implement a neutralization is a reasonable way. For those situations obviously there can be no promise of neutralization. And to say risk-taking is inevitable is begging the question we are discussing here: how to stop it.

      • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:14 pm

        Half-barrier crossings are a pita – an attempt to solve one problem which causes another one.

    • Nick Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 1:18 pm

      It’s not that grey an area: the rule refers to the barrier being “down”, not “descending”. Unless the French version is different, that’s clear enough for decisions to be made. Nobody who passed either barrier while it was down (including after the train had passed) could have a genuine reason for complaint if retrospectively DQd.

      If it is genuinely considered to be unclear, then cycling would benefit from a rule similar to that found in other sports, namely that the referee/umpire/commissionaire’s decision is final. So if s/he says that the barriers were down at point X, then they were “down” for the purposes of the rule.

  • Cilmeri Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:05 pm

    One other point, I was watching some coverage of the masters golf, where it was noted that aeroplanes are not allowed to cross the course whilst the masters are happening. Now clearly it’s easier to divert a plane than a train which has to go on specific tracks – however the principle of a sporting event influencing transport is there and surely could be explored further?

    • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:07 pm

      As Van Petegem said ‘In Belgium they’d have stopped the train’.

    • Francisco Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:51 pm

      Restrictions on blocks of airspace are routine. The temporary restriction for a golf tournaments is quite insignificant in terms of air navigation, a few miles wide and a few hundred feet high, far away from busy airports and flight corridors. Aircraft can easily go around or over such a small and remote block. Changing the TGV train schedule would be comparable to restricting traffic at Charles de Gaulle itself. Will not happen.

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:43 pm

      temporary staging with stairs and a bridge.

      Of course, Stybar would have the advantage…

  • Jonhard Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:08 pm

    For Roubaix at least, it must be possible to marshal the crossings more effectively, giving riders a bit more notice and time to stop. For other races that might not be practical but surely in a WT race… practical assistance as well as stricter enforcement.

  • Jon C Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:12 pm

    From a punishment perspective there are very few people bar the top placings who would be overly concerned with the DQ and Cilmeri is quite correct re the difficluty in making a suspension a viable deterrent. A better way to guarantee such things not happening in future is to “spread the pain” by docking the teams the currency they so covet – points. Difficuly to dodge that bullet and could prove costly down the line.

  • Overafton Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:15 pm

    Amazing on the above video…at the very start of the video one of the motorcycles has actually STOPPED completely, while the other rolls on. Interesting there was time enough for this..ESPECIALLY if either of the two motos was a commissaire. Hummmm….can you disqualify a race official (that at times would be nice!)

    • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:21 pm

      Yes, that’s the crucial point – is that a commissaire? If so, he is at fault. And you certainly can’t DQ any of the riders (maybe apart from the three(?) at the very end).
      Looking again at the video, the riders are not going that quickly – if the motorbikes has stopped, they probably would have.

  • Overafton Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:20 pm

    …and as Eddy Merks has already brought up in his comments, for those non-cyclists who see this, it just “confirms” what they already think and disdain about us cyclist…that we don’t obey road rules and are dangerous to automobile driving/drivers and ourselves.

  • Dave Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:27 pm

    nice balanced view, who can say they wouldn’t have done the same thing in the same situation with all the adrenaline and pressure? Human nature to push it a bit and take risks.

    I also agree though that UCI need to act to set a precedent.

    In the video there’s a moto frantically waves to neutralise to the group ahead of the crossing, with the OPQS rider gesticulating (ultimately unsuccessfully) that they should be allowed to ride on. Maybe a carrot-and-stick approach; the riders know beforehand that if a group is split by a crossing the commissaires will neutralise the race and allow a re-group. Takes away the incentive to jump the barrier as nothing gained by doing so and nothing lost by stopping. If they can (supposedly!) neutralise a cold, wet, dangerous descent they can neutralise a high speed train encounter?

  • Ken Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:41 pm

    I watched the videos, and stopping was not an obvious decision. While a recreational rider with any common sense would slow down when approaching the crossing, the group approached at high speed. There seems no way those in front could have safely stopped when the gates started down. Each rider made an individual decision to go or stop. A few in the middle clearly made unsafe decisions, for example, stopping then ducking under the gate. Where exactly do you draw the line and disqualify the offenders who took a risk to gain advantage?

    The crossing apparently was not designed for a peloton of fast cyclists. Why weren’t race officials in contact with the train dispatchers? Knowing a train-cycle conflict was lining up, why wasn’t the race neutralized BEFORE the crossing? Everybody stops at the crossing, the break is delayed accordingly, and the race is safe and fair.

    • Canocola Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:31 pm

      To be fair to the railway company, they don’t need to go to any expense or effort as they already have a perfectly serviceable system for warning traffic that a train is approaching – the lights start flashing and a barrier comes down. All the UCI need to do is to ensure that in future cyclists are fully aware of the consequences of ignoring this.

      Some way of mitigating the impact on racing of a level crossing closure would be welcome though, so that riders are clear that they won’t be disadvantaged.

  • Ferdi Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:43 pm

    The last one on the video is “all-heart” Van Avermaet, no?

    • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2:46 pm

      Grass.

      Does anyone know if other countries are up in arms about this? I have a suspicion that it might just be in health and safety-obsessed UK (ask any European who lives here).

  • Megi Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:01 pm

    There needs to be an accepted emergency neutralisation procedure probably involving loud noises as riders are already used to listening out for the horns of cars overtaking them.
    In the case of level crossings where passenger safety is as much an issue as cyclist safety, they could be blocked off by marshals as already happens with part of routes where the cyclists go twice through a junction leaving by differe t exits each time. The marshals would only move out of the way IF the bells were silent. Ideally they would have a direct link to the signal box as well

    • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:05 pm

      Amazing how the UCI fails to come up with simple solutions like this and others mentioned above.

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:48 pm

      Yes. The Stelvio fiasco doesn’t need to be repeated either.

      • Ken Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 1:35 am

        With a little coordination with the railroad, or even just an observer up the line, the marshals should be able to recognize a likely conflict while the peleton is still several kilometers away from the crossing. Time-distance calculations are not exactly rocket science.

  • Jon C Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:14 pm

    Everything that has been said in this post in perfectly reasonable and sensible. Surely however, there must come a point where riders take responsibility for an action that they know is inherently stupid. If I was Cookson I couldn’t help but think along the lines of “is telling the riders not to cross an active level crossing really not enough. Do I really need to spell it out that the UCI does not want cyclists doing something that could well kill them where there is already an obvious warning of impending danger being provided to them i.e. a clossing barrier at a level crossing”.

  • Christopher N Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:20 pm

    Were there a formal rider’s union, this would be an excellent opportunity to get out ahead of this situation with the rider’s voice and perspective in a protected manner helping to diffuse potentially career ending penalties or legal action and organizing a better plan moving forward. And the commissaires need to be at those intersections long before the peloton arrives.

  • Tovarishch Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:44 pm
  • mabarbie Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 3:56 pm

    The actions of those pros going through the level crossing can not be compared to what happens in normal civilian life. The pros are competing in a closed road event and as has been pointed out the rules are different as regards level crossings. For normal civilian road usage (be it a pedestrian or in a vehicle), once bells and lights start you must stop.

    This doesn’t excuse the action of the pros in the wrong, but when in the heat of battle with the potential to put in a largish gap between you and competitors, I can completely understand why the pros did what they did. The fault in my mind lies with the race organisation in not having sufficient forethought to place marshals of some kind in support to be able to forewarn approaching competitors and stop them, way before the crossing.

    • Matt Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 5:08 pm

      Is that certainly the case in law? Is the crossing part of the road or part of the railway?

      • Megi Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:45 pm

        In Britain a level crossing is both part of the road and part of the railway. If you are caught on the tracks as a train approaches, you can be prosecuted under the road traffic laws for disobeying a traffic signal – the flashing lights and bells – and you can be prosecuted for obstructing the railway – stopping/parking your car on the railway.

        Again in Britain, all the normal traffic and road laws remain in place on any public road unless they are specifically suspended under a specific order which will state what can and can’t be done. You should have seen the volumes of road closure orders that accompanied the Tour de France last year.

  • gastro george Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 4:49 pm

    FWIW, there is a definition of this behaviour – the Fallacy of Composition – you can’t infer that the correct behaviour for one person will be the correct behaviour for a group of people.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:35 pm

      Thanks, will try to remember that one.

  • SeeingElvis Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 5:18 pm

    VeloNews posted this series of stop action photos that is illustrative:

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/04/news/road/gallery-roubaix-railroad-crossing-photo-sequence_366602

    • Jonhard Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:21 pm

      Interesting. Taking a strict view of the rule INRNG quoted above (and indeed on twitter straight away when it happened) then the cut-off comes when the barriers are down, not as they close.

      If so it seems that Cancellara’s initial tweet was about right. 3 or 4 riders should’ve been out.

      But that rule should probably change. It effectively encourages riders to go for it to beat the drop.

      • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 6:28 pm

        Many, many more than three – as you can see on this video:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA-84SIFnSo
        After 8 seconds, the barrier is fully down: by my estimation, 14 riders apart from the final 3 then cross.
        Plus that would be a preposterous (if accurate) interpretation of the rule, as you intimate.

      • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:34 pm

        The could be more to it, under some rules when the lights start flashing technically the crossing is closed and the barrier is deemed to be closed, even if obviously if they’re not (all the way) down.

        • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:40 pm

          Then, that is everyone – including the first two motorbikes – they all cross when the lights are flashing; and they all have time to stop: the first motorbike certainly did, as it stopped, and the riders weren’t going that quickly.

        • Nick Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 1:21 pm

          Under the UCI rules, those people would be subject to prosecution under French law, but not necessarily DQd.

  • Dai Bank Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 5:50 pm

    Surely in such a close area where there are so many crossings there must be a simple solution. All crossings should be within short range walkie talkie/race radio type contact and all it would need would be a commissaire at each crossing and one in the nearest signalbox notifying those up or down the line that a train is due, even before the lights start flashing. Red flag/ neutralise the race 250m before the crossing, neutralise or stop any breakaway immediately, roll the bunch and convoy to the crossing set the clock running and off we go when the barriers are up. OK it would be complicated if the race convoy was spread across more than one crossing, particularly at this location but it can’t be beyond the whit of such a seasoned organisation as ASO to compose and practice such a scenario. More expensive and complicated in another race or location perhaps but for this the Queen of the classics it must now happen.
    Will the UCI enforce it’s own rules, no doubt after the CIRC it must.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:21 pm

    If disqualifying riders will prevent future incidents like this occurring …

    … then why didn’t that work on Sunday as a result of the 2006 disqualifications?

    Because not one rider came up to that crossing on Sunday and said to himself “Hmm, I’d better stop or else I’ll get disqualified just like those guys nine years ago”.

    Deterrents are only deterrents if they work.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:33 pm

      Indeed, it goes back to the quote at the top “it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others”, ie you have to make examples from time to time.

      • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:43 pm

        But you’re missing Voltaire’s point – he was satirising this ‘deterrent’ approach.

        Firstly, on the grounds that it was over the top. The punishment did not fit the crime.
        Secondly, on the grounds that it frequently doesn’t work.

        Who was deterred on Sunday as a result of the disqualification in 2006? Nobody. So why do you think anybody will be deterred next time if you disqualify people from Sunday’s incident?

        • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:47 pm

          Yes, better to guarantee neutralisation – otherwise, a rider thinks ‘Well, if I jump across I might get DQ’d, but if I don’t jump across I might well be out of the race anyway because the rules say there will be no neutralisation’. I think the rules and the commissaires are more at fault than the riders.

          • Disgruntledgoat Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 8:29 am

            Or better yet “if I jump across, I MIGHT GET HIT BY A TRAIN!”

            How this doesn’t enter into it, I cannot fathom.

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:14 pm

          Yes, not calling for anyone to be executed like Voltaire! Just for the UCI to uphold their own rules. Regularly applying them matters. There have been more recent incidents when they weren’t applied, most of the riders had forgotten or didn’t know about 2006.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:24 pm

    I’ll say one thing for all these videos of LevelCrossingGate – it’s the only time I saw a Cannondale-Garmin rider all bloody day!

    They had a terrible race.

    • SeeingElvis Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:46 pm

      Hah! A terrible season for GarminDale, let alone the race.
      The GC guys are going to be feeling some pressure.

      If the UCI is going to act on train-gate, I certainly hope they do it in a more timely fashion than, say, the bio passport case of Kreuziger.
      Actually, just noticed that CN is reporting “no sanctions.”
      That is it? It is settled with no action from the UCI?

  • Bilmo Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:29 pm

    I agree with most points above. As I see it the simple (cheap) solution is to have marshalls positioned 100/200m in front of the barrier that are in communication with a somebody monitoring the railway. This would mean that the riders had sufficient time to stop before the barriers.

    I do understand Paolini and other riders comments about being in the heat of the battle and not seeing lights etc in time. Even at the slow speed I was riding in the sportive the day before I struggled to concentrate on anything more that a few metres ahead. The marshalls being away from the barrier would help this.

    I also think that it would help the riders is knowing that the race would be neutralised. The current rules seems to encourage a last chance dash across to gain an advantage. I don’t think any existing break should be called back or slowed – the advantage they gain seems to be a fair ‘racing incident’. I just think no new breaks in the peloton should be created.

    My final point is that if the riders who crossed before the train are disqualified the same should apply to those who crossed before the barrier went up again. This is in many ways more dangerous as you may have been able to see the first train but another coming in the opposite direction could be blocked from view. There was a safety campaign about this kind of risk in the UK recently.

  • Shearman Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 7:46 pm

    After reading the excellent debate above, I keep coming back to one question – why would the riders voluntarily risk their lives doing something they KNOW is dangerous? The obvious answer is that they are scared of losing a competitive advantage to someone who gambles. How could we prevent this? There seemed to me a very good suggestion above – a rule that if the peloton is split by a crossing coming down, the race will be neutralised in order for them to re-group? Unless an attack was made just before a crossing, wouldn’t this clarify the situation?

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:12 pm

      This rule exists, I didn’t want to quote acres of the rulebook but here it is:

      2.3.035 The following rules shall apply:
      1. One or more riders who have broken away from the field are held up at a level crossing but the gates open before the field catches up. No action shall be taken and the closed level crossing shall be considered a mere race incident.
      2. One or more riders with more than 30 seconds’ lead on the field are held up at a level crossing and the rest of the field catches up while the gates are still closed. In this case the race shall be neutralised and restarted with the same gaps, once the official vehicles preceding the race have passed. If the lead is less than 30 seconds, the closed level crossing shall be considered a mere race incident.
      3. If one or more leading riders make it over the crossing before the gates shut and the remainder of the riders are held up, no action shall be taken and the closed level crossing shall be considered a race incident.
      4. Any other situation (prolonged closure of the barrier, etc.) shall be resolved by the commissaires.
      This article shall apply equally to similar situations (mobile bridges, obstacles on the route, etc.).

      • Ron Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:20 pm

        Ah, there is the clarification I was looking for!

  • BigSigh Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:05 pm

    I know I felt very uneasy watching at the time and have sympathy with the riders put into this situation but, as many have said before me, something needs be done to stop it happening again in the future.

    The train may have appeared to be travelling pretty slowly but, just as many car drivers pulling out at junctions sometimes have trouble judging the speed of some cyclists, how good a judge of the speed of the train are the riders? (Does that make sense?)

    Someone above mentioned the gap between the last rider crossing and the train passing over the crossing was 7 seconds, as if this was an eternity. Believe me, it doesn’t feel this way sitting in the cab of the train. The behaviour of people close to the railway is unpredictable and what may feel ‘safe’ to the punter often doesn’t look this way to the driver.

    So while I have sympathy for the riders, my sympathy for the train driver would far exceed this, should he/she hit a rider or even have a near miss.

    • Vitus Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:40 pm

      Watch Saturday’s U23 RVV incident, linked in the article. In this case there was no 7s “eternity” , there were only one, maybe two. And that train seemed much faster than the TGV on Sunday . The train driver must have pulled his horn in real panic.

      • BigSigh Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 9:27 pm

        New pair of pants for the driver…

        • Disgruntledgoat Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 8:31 am

          Trains don’t exactly stop on a dime either

      • UHJ Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 11:17 am

        Holy S#!t
        I was chief commissaire on that one, nobody – really – reported this incident to me. That is scary and of course we should have DQ’ed some of these guys if we could get the numbers or identify them in the video.
        I can’t say for sure at which point in the race this is but I was informed that no crossings presented any problems. Clearly they did. I know enough vlaamse to understand most on the radio and this was never mentioned.
        Damn…

        • Vitus Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:03 pm

          Oh wow,….I read your interesting inside impressions the other day on the Vasco incident discussion and now it turns out you were the actual commisaire on that peticular race.
          I’m not surprised that no one of the riders told you about that. But at least the guys in the car saw what happened. Is it a team or a race car?

          • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 11:18 pm

            ….and if it’s true that this was a dropped group ten minutes behind , you really have to ask what and why the f?
            http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/u23-riders-in-near-miss-with-train-at-tour-of-flanders

          • UHJ Thursday, 16 April 2015, 1:20 am

            Yeah, it’s a team car. We had Shimano neutral for this one.
            Well, as it goes, the race i decided at the front and I was – as far as I can tell – way ahead of these guys as was also pretty much all the other commissaires. Riders that far behind was destined for the voiture balais and we had left for an exciting race up front.
            Of course riders would not tell on this one but as DS goes, those in the car should be ashamed not informing us afterwards.
            Riders that far behind, if that was the case, should as Jo says not be dodging barriers to make it. so yes; WTF…
            I have noted the incident for my report. That is about all I can do for now, unfortunately.

  • Ron Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:16 pm

    Very well-reasoned and written piece, thank you!

    Won’t racers who get across ahead of the barriers complain that if it’s neutralized they’re being penalized for riding faster and leading the race? Just wondering how this will work out – if the group is split and they make neutralization a rule.

  • Ron Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:24 pm

    ARRRGH, the comments on the youtube videos. Nothing worse than bastards who know fuck all about cycling chiming in. I hate it when things I love are put in front of the dopey public ONLY when something bad happens.

    • BigSigh Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 9:15 pm

      +1

    • Overafton Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 3:54 am

      just cutting-and-pasting my comment from above:
      …and as Eddy Merks has already brought up in his comments, for those non-cyclists who see this, it just “confirms” what they already think and disdain about us cyclist…that we don’t obey road rules and are dangerous to automobile driving/drivers and ourselves.

  • STS Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:37 pm

    To me it’s no wonder that only a few riders have spoken out so far although it’s a shame. Because what I have read here and elsewhere about this incident mostly only reflects the point of view of people who obviously have never raced “seriously”. I don’t want to blame anyone for their take on this but maybe it’s hard to imagine the state of mind you’re in when the racing is really on. You are in battle-mode.
    Road racing alone is already very dangerous. Racing P-R is the most dangerous race for your health. So crossing a level-crossing right after the barriers have gone done is considered a rather “safe” move in the frame of mind of a racer.
    While it’s good and necessary to have rules it’s not always possible or sensible to apply them. With the situation as it was on Sunday the race commissaires did exactly the right thing: Punish nobody and neutralize the race. I think there should be taken no action in the aftermath.
    I welcome the discussion though for one reason: What can be done better in the future to prevent situations like this?
    I agree with Paolini’s statement and am really thankful that he has the courage to utter what seems to be a controversial position.

    • J Evans Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 8:49 pm

      +1

    • Sam Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 10:56 pm

      There’s certainly a great deal of shrillness bordering on hysteria from some quarters

    • Matt Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:59 pm

      While I agree with your point about the state of mind when your trying to battle to stay in prime position in a race, I cant agree with you that no action should be taken. A very clear line has to be drawn that this can *never* be acceptable. Even with some further neutralisation strategy in place down the line, this isn’t always going to be the case in every race and for all riders and groups coming up to the crossings. Just look at the U23 Flanders video.

  • Foley Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 9:28 pm

    “While it’s good and necessary to have rules it’s not always possible or sensible to apply them.” Careful, you are going to make Inrng’s head explode. Does this approach apply to doping controls as well?

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 10:38 pm

      Certainly seems to…

  • Oliver Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 11:33 pm

    Of course I know you welcome these corrections so that’s why I felt free to chime in. And btw, an excellent piece: this was in fact a pretty close call and for the sake of the future safety of other riders, folks should be retroactively punished here. If not, where’s the deterrence?

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:03 pm

      Deterrence is not the only way to solve a problem, nor is it the only way to describe any possible solution.

      There may be more lasting benefit in engineering out the problem – a number of ways have been suggested here already – than punishing riders in a messy situation where the possibility of perceived injustice may be high.

      Too many alternative numbers of riders/officials/accompanying motos infringing any rules have been suggested already – here and elsewhere – for there to be much hope of a consensus on a ‘just’ number to be punished.

  • AK Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:16 am

    I vote for a rule change for rule 2.3.035 point 3, changing it to neutralization if a crossing creates a gap in a group. Rule 2 basically says the crossings should not annihilate gaps, why should they create them? It also works best as a deterrent, better than the fear of disqualification

    As for what to do post-race with this incident? Disqualifying half the peleton would certainly work as a great reminder not to try this again but it would be a punishment only to those who finished high, the rest won’t care.

  • Bern Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 4:45 am

    Comments well reasoned and wide ranging (always good discussion when several sides of an issue are supported by valid arguments)…gotta say that my initial impression watching live was “no harm no foul” – that is, in the moment it happened, and within the context of a highly competitive sporting event, none of the actions of riders or race officials looked particularly unsafe. I ride the streets of San Francisco at rush hour every day and wouldn’t give that up for anything. But (and especially after reading comments here) my biggest concern is the sobering thought that had it ended badly I can easily imagine the public demanding (and feeble public officials enforcing) a general ban on racing except on closed tracks.

    I am not the Cassandra sort, but I’ve seen the pattern of over-the-top reaction and it would not take more than one pathetic incident to kill road racing entirely.

  • Hayden Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 6:11 am

    There was a typically limp-wristed response from the UCI requesting a report asap… they are rapidly becoming irrelevant.

    My 2c: Any riders who stop behind the barriers should be awarded a time bonus equivalent to the time the barriers are down, plus say… 10 seconds to get back upto speed. Eg, if you stop for the barriers and they are down for 30 seconds then you will have 40 seconds deducted from your overall finishing time. This should only apply to riders actually stopped at the barriers so they will have their road position ‘restored at the end of the race. Race leaders will presumably be through the barriers before they close – no bonus for them. Riders dropped by the peloton who aren’t stopped by the barriers (ie they are too faf back) get no bonus… so only the impacted riders ‘benefit’.

    (lots of comments on this topic, apologies if someone has already suggested this…)

  • Feral Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 8:16 am

    I am sure my cycling mate in Adelaide is full of regret at his decision to run a level crossing. His subsequent quadriplegia is a life sentence and cruel, constant reminder of a poor, split-second decision.

  • BC Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:04 am

    I think we might all be a little in danger of over reacting.

    In my humble view the events at P-R took place in the heat of the moment, with elevated testosterone levels, at an important point in the race. Many riders were probably of the knowledge that with a little luck, this could be their day for a top drawer performance. We have all been guilty of irresponsible actions when the stakes are high. Against the rules – of course, dangerous – yes. Exciting viewing – yes. In the event fortunately, and by good luck there were no serious consequences. Rules were clearly broken – but for many that’s what rules are for, the trick is not to be caught.

    The question now surely is how to ensure such events are not repeated in the future. Not to retrospectively deprive the athlete’s of their hard fought success. Crossing level crossings in the face of approaching trains is writ deep into the legend of the sports history.

    There was always going to be an on going price to pay for the ‘lets make bike racing safe’ brigades current crusade. I sincerely hope this is the last incident which draws attention to this well intentioned but self defeating thought process.

    Rules are rules and of course should be followed. BUT you can’t legislate for the desire of athletes to succeed.

    • Larry T. Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:25 am

      Thanks BC. I hoped to find a rational comment if I scrolled down far enough. A sad situation – a great race won by a guy with a “never give up” attitude almost totally overshadowed by hand-wringing over the train fiasco. I fear bicycle road racing will someday be restricted to purpose-built (or motor racing) circuits by the “Helen Lovejoys” (thanks for that one Disgruntled Goat!) of the world if we’re not careful.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:22 pm

        +1 to both – let’s calm the histrionics.

    • Tovarishch Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 12:42 pm

      Rules were clearly broken – but for many that’s what rules are for, the trick is not to be caught.

      Do you use that to justify doping, as well?

      • J Evans Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 1:35 pm

        Because it’s the same thing.
        A split-second decision not to have your race ruined (however poor a decision it is); and a career-long decision to cheat, lie and steal (prize money) from fellow competitors, race organisers and fans.

      • BC Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 5:57 pm

        Tovarishch. You clearly have not read comments of mine concerning doping. The words you quote are from someone much wiser than you or I. Lots of rules are broken everyday that we might not approve of. Our disapproval does not stop it happening – it’s life.

        Let me be clear with you – very clear. I have been the victim of dopers for longer and in more events and in more countries than I care to repeat. You will understand that my personal thoughts are not what one would like to appear in print on Inrng’s blog. I don’t therefore, as you might expect, take to kindly to your uncalled for innuendo !

  • TailWindHome Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:27 am

    Cookson should see this as a opportunity to consult with and build a consensus with riders rather than seek to enforce rules.

  • Nempnet Thrubwell Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:21 am

    Think M. Irrng is being too shy by not naming names. The Voltaire quote is apposite because the naval officer shot was not just any old jack, but an Admiral, John Byng. That is why the warning is so effective. Ditto PR – disqualifying a podium finisher demonstrates once and for all the rule is never to be broken.
    And whatever the rights and wrongs of the UCI rules, the commissionaires, the race organization, French (or Belgium) railways, the debate would be very different if someone had been hit.

    • Francisco Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 4:40 pm

      I disagree with your first statement. Voltaire’s witticism is apposite for its irony as much as for its illustrative value. Admiral Byng’s execution was felt even at the time to be excessive, an ass-covering exercise by his superiors and a miscasting of failure as treason. Enlightened England was seen to stoop to the level of tyranny.
      Voltaire was satirizing the system, not the individual; and Inrng similarly drew attention away from individual riders and towards the systemic aspects involved in the failure to follow rules. The answer being not a crackdown placing all the blame on the riders, but rather consistent enforcement moderated by good and timely judgment in each case.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:49 pm

      Can we please stop with this attitude of “Voltaire was right, deterrents work”?

      As Foley points out, Voltaire was being ironic. He was taking the piss. The execution of Byng was an absolute bloody nonsense, and famously so.

      And, yet again, if “disqualifying a podium finisher demonstrates once and for all the rule is never to be broken” then why are riders still jumping level crossings after Mr.VanP, Hoste and Gusev in 2006?

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:51 pm

        *Foley – Francisco.

  • Salsiccia Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 10:47 am

    This is a really difficult one, but there should definitely be a DQ for the BMC rider who goes around the Gendarme.

    There’s only two fool-proof solutions:
    1. Stop the trains running for a couple of hours on that section of line
    2. Stop the race using level crossings

    Neither of those will be popular in some camps, as 1 will cause disruption and 2 means a complete rethink of the route and loss of the Arenberg (though the riders might not mind that one!). But given the economic and cultural importance of the race to the Nord Department you would think that for one afternoon that 1 would be possible to negotiate.

  • Dave Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 2:03 pm

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned above, but allowing riders to decide for themselves seems hopelessly optimistic. If I was organising a race that passed over a level crossing then I would identify it as a hazard in my risk assessment and take the appropriate action. With the resources available to races of the callibre of Paris-Roubaix, I would have thought a police/civilian moto or static marshal would be assigned to every such crossing (though given the urgency of M.Bourgeot in the photo above you may want to double up).

  • Ronin Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 9:44 pm

    Yes, the UCI needs to take exemplary action, and it might consider tightening up the rules about crossings and race incidents. But, no post race DQs here. Don’t mar a very fine edition of one of the most prestigious races on the calender. Rider safety is not the number one priority. That’s an absurd thing to say in a sport that poses an inherent risk of death. And, ask yourself this. How many PRO riders have been killed by trains? Just how dangerous is it, really?

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