The Safety Question

Steven Kruijswijk is out of the Vuelta after crashing into an unmarked bollard during the finish of yesterday’s stage. It’s the latest safety concern. Each time there are calls for something to be done but what could be done and who could do it?

Predictably there are lots of calls for the UCI to “do something” but in the immediate moment the rules firmly say it’s not a UCI matter and in the longer term the governing body is a weak institution so if it tried to take charge this might not work out well. Let’s look at the rules on race safety. There’s a UCI rule declining responsibility in the case of an accident:

1.2.063: In no case can the UCI be held responsible for defects in the course or installations of for any accidents that may occur.

There are other provisions in the rulebook to reinforce this. On the specific subject of the route it’s up to the race:

1.2.061 the organiser shall ensure that the race course or the competition grounds include no places or situations that could constitute a particular safety risk to anyone (riders, attendants, officials, spectators, etc.).

As you see this is general and covers everything from the route to spectators and it puts the responsibility on the organiser and not the UCI. Another rule reminds riders to check the course themselves but it’s impractical to imagine them verifying every item of street furniture, in the case of Kruijswijk here and Peter Stetina’s crash last year something’s gone wrong.

The UCI has a guide for race organisers. It’s just that, a guide and the kind of technical document that includes all sorts of tips and suggestions to incorporate. Here are some of the safety points:

The organiser must indicate, at a suitable distance, all obstacles that it is reasonable to know about or foresee and that represent an unusual risk to the safety of the riders and race followers. The various obstacles must be pointed out in the event programme/technical guide.

The increasing amount of street furniture in many towns complicates the organisation of cycle races. It is nowadays essential to remove or provide protection from such obstacles. The organiser must anticipate potential crash sites during the race

The organiser must pay particular attention to providing the riders with warnings when passing through towns and in the final stages of the event (last 20 km). These warnings should be both visible and audible. A member of the security staff (mobile escort) waves a flag (preferably yellow) and gives repeated blasts on a whistle while standing in front of the obstacle

It’s obvious but useful, a handy guide for a new event trying to make a checklist of tasks. Which brings us to the Vuelta, it hardly needs this. It’s been taken over by ASO but doesn’t yet have all the hallmarks of an ASO race in France. For example ASO has a pool of motorbike riders and drivers who get training and back-up – including official motorbikes – but as we saw last year when Peter Sagan was taken out by a motorbike during the Vuelta the race remains a Unipublic production for now.

The UCI must do something
Now to the broader point that the UCI probably couldn’t do much if it tried. As repeated so often here the UCI is a mid-size governing body with its headquarters located behind a retail park on the outskirts of a small Swiss town. It’s neither wealthy nor powerful and as we keep seeing it has problems getting the Tour de France on its calendar, had problems with the disc brakes trial and struggling to get the pro teams to show up at its World Championships. It might be the governing body but it’s really the supplier of rules, not the ruler, so imposing new safety requirements could be another step too far.

Still, to borrow from Winston Churchill, the UCI need not not waste this crisis. There’s a groundswell of support for change and it’d be easy to portray anyone blocking increased safety measures as anti-rider and nobody would want to be seen like that. So what to do? The rider union the CPA has a detailed plan which you should read (PDF) with two main themes: a formal check of the final three kilometres where the course is assessed several times (30 days in advance and 20 minutes before the finish); and a formal risk assessment write-up where obstacles and issues are noted and plans can be made… if it they are not then it becomes obvious who is to blame. It’s sensible but would depend on being taken seriously by its users and of course it only secures the final 3km rather than the whole route although the final moments are some of the most delicate.

The UCI can’t prevent accidents and a recap to remind readers the rules state clearly this is the job of the race and not the governing body. But the governing body could step in, tighten up the requirements and the CPA plan is a good starting point. The UCI can’t enact this overnight this but it can get involved here but needs the support of others. Riders taking to Twitter to moan at the UCI only show they don’t know the rules they’re supposed to be racing by and what’s really needed is dialogue and action, perhaps a constructive email or even staging a protest in front of those responsible, the race owners and supportive action to encourage all parties to discuss and implement workable plans.

55 thoughts on “The Safety Question”

      • All those riders that have gotten run over by motorcycles, some have even died. Have you heard about lawsuits? Cyclists almost don’t have any power at all.

      • The Dutch commentators mentioned this year during the Tour, that Johnny Hoogerland’s case was still unresolved with the ASO.

        It goes to show that even in a case like this, where the organisers are 100% responsible, it will a lot more than one rider to make the ASO bend.

      • Agreed. For anyone who thinks it’s easy just do your own risk assessment an your local RR course and you’ll be shocked by what you miss. A stage race is another beastie. At the end of the day we are fallible humans.

  1. Thanks for this article Inrng, it’s enlightening on a number of levels.

    Looking at the CPA Proposal document, the final 3km course inspection is a minimum of 30 minutes before the finish, not 20 minutes as above (I don’t usually do the pedantic bits so sorry about that).
    But their sample risk assessment confuses hazards with risk. A traffic island is a hazard, not a risk.
    This doesn’t portray the CPA well on first reading either.

    It feels, from afar at least, amateurish.
    I don’t mean to sound unkind in saying that. But perhaps the best thing the UCI could do would be to pass a ruling that a race organiser must contract a H&S specialist (ASO could tender for a contract for all its races for instance) to do a race risk assessment.

    Someone is going to get killed in their workplace and it’s about time cycling caught up with the law, before it happens the other way round.
    Sorry to be blunt.

      • Yes, an isolated three foot high, four or five inch wide, metal bollard a few feet from the side of the otherwise clear road. That’s getting towards deadly “hazard” for a bunch at speed. This one is different to traffic islands and other usual risks of the trade.

    • Agree that their risk assessment has confused hazard & risk (this is a common mistake, scarily, even by H&S professionals).
      With free technology, such as iAuditor (where there are similar motorbike track safety audits already available), it wouldn’t be hard for the UCI to create a standard procedure and audit that could be followed. The audit would be traceable, time checked, pictorial and signed by the inspectors. It would probably take a couple of hours to create!
      I do wonder if the last check(s), or even the installation of protections, are done by someone following notes/photos from a previous visit, as I find it hard to understand how such an obvious hazard was missed on more than one walkthrough.

      • Do ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ have different meanings when used in a technical H&S context, then? Outside that context they can reasonably be used as synonyms.

        • a hazard is the situation, the event or equipement e.g. that can cause harm. The -associated- risk is the probability of that occuring. A big tree along the side of a straight road halfway a stage is a hazard, the associated risk of that being a problem is very low. An unmarked pole on the road anywhere on a cycling course is the hazard, the risk of that being a problem is very high. You can mitigate the risk by doing something about it. Removing the pole obviously removes the risk of it being a problem, doing something else reduces the risk but the hazard remains.

          • My experience with the usage of risk is ever so slightly different.

            I’ve always had risk presented as the product of consequence and likelihood. And you can mitigate risk by attempting to control either (or both).

            Possibly just semantics.

            In this situation I think the formalities of risk assessment are almost irrelevant because removing the hazard altogether is such a trivial task.

            More broadly, it would be interesting to see some of the more emotional events from the last few years studied and put into context with the every day ‘racing incidents’ that are taken for granted as part of the life of a pro cyclist. Where do motos, extreme weather, tricky descents, disc brakes etc rank vs riding in the peleton where it’s probably uncommon someone goes down due to touching a wheel.

            In answer to Nick, to me they are two different things so I probably wouldn’t interchange them but that might just be a result of being presented with quite a lot of risk assessment over the years.

    • 20 or 30 minutes does not really leave sufficient time to take corrective action in many cases. You need to get the crew and equipment on-site, get proper measures placed, have the situation reinspected and get everybody/everything out of the way, all while dealing with road closures and spectators in the immediate vicinity. I state this as someone who works in operations and logistics at events.

  2. Ensuring and enforcing barriers in the final 3K should be standard and if not constructed then the organizers should be held liable for accidents. That action would have prevented yesterdays mishap which I am very upset about especially because Kruijswijk was on my fantasy team. Silliness aside, I think David Millar’s brief talk at the end of the ITV4 highlight coverage was good and at least he and some other current/retired pro riders are being asked for input.

    • This is a lot of equipment; it isn’t 3k of barriers it will usually mean is 3k of barriers on 2 sides of the street or 6k of barriers, which takes hours to place and hours to pick-up. It represents a serious cost (at least $20k – $40k each day in the US) on the part of organizers. Smaller races can’t afford this, and in many cases this is entirely unnecessary, as hazards and/or spectators do not exist this far out.

      Furthermore, this amount of equipment may not be readily available all the time. One of the large suppliers I work with has only 2700m in their total inventory. This represents 3 truck loads of footed barricades. If the call is for no feet sticking out into the roadway (as will be mentioned or called for eventually), this amount of this type barricades do not exist everywhere in the world, and would end up being many more truck loads, as they take up significantly more space.

      And there will be calls to extend this 3k rule, the next time an accident happens at the 4k or 5k to go mark…

      With all the calls for increased prize money, parity between men’s & women’s purses, revenue sharing, expense stipends, increased safety measures, it will be very easy to regulate many races out of business; we will create safety be eliminating the calendar.

      I am not arguing about safety measures being taken, all I am stating is that a blanket, 1 rule fits all isn’t a realistic scenario. Perhaps the best scenario is an assessment of courses and certification of plans by UCI designates in advance of race sanctions being issued.

      • I worked at an events company for years. Even though we didn’t have that many kilometers of barriers “on hand” ourselves, if we needed to, we’d always manage by just hiring them from another company. Yes, there is a cost associated with that. And no, ASO should not have a problem with that cost. As several people have said: If you can’t afford safety measures, you shouldn’t be organising a race at all.

        But maybe we should look at this with a bit broader view. Putting up additional barriers might help, but there are plenty of other possible measures as well: Maybe increased scrutinising of potentially hazardous local situations will force race organisers to move sprint finishes away from old city centres with narrow streets and lots of road furniture? Or maybe the 3km rule needs to be extended to a 5km rule, so that GC contenders and their guardians can all drop off at 5km (rather than 3km), leaving only the sprint guys to contest for the best spots? Maybe time differences in the final 5km should never count and there should be no bonus seconds (both on potential sprint finishes of course)? Maybe the organiser should automatically be held accountable if an accident happens because of their negligence (including motos, cars, deflating arches, etc)?

      • Yes, it will be quite a daunting task to provide and set up such a massive amount of guards and rails. Not to mention the manpower needed and the space for the trucks; some 6-7-8 really large ones.

        I find this is actually – from an industry point of view – the right time to try and invent or re-think the barrier-setup used in most races; could this be done – safely – using inflatables or do you have other ideas?

        I am no epert on this but now is the moment to get it moving; the organisers are screaming for stable, solid and easy-mount barriers (that, and this is no little feat; doesn’t weigh too much or take up a lot of space once packed)

    • We’d all like the barriers like this. One problem is that most race don’t have their own barriers and crowd infrastructure, instead they rely on locals – eg the municipality – to rent it and deploy it. People might remember the shortened finish on Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France, the barriers could not be moved because the municipal workers who’d put them up there in the first place had gone home. What’s probably needed instead is closer work with the local authorities and then some review of the course.

      • Yes, we would.
        But, suppose this bollard-incident happened in a low-profile race (obviously not that low-profile, WT-teams could participate but anyway) how would we have gone about all these suggestions?
        Events lower down the UCI scale of events rely heavily – if not completely – on volounteers. Most of their money goes into meeting the UCI requirements for winner’s sums.
        They cannot afford more barriers, find more staff (for free) or anything remotely like ASO or RCS (okay, RCS is a stretch ;-). Nor can they afford/find time and money spent on having their volounteers passing a UCI seminar or being accredited. And the riders in these races are not part of CPA or any other “union”, they are just struggeling to break through on Conti or Pro Conti levels. They are not going to rock the boat.
        And even at this level, safety cannot be relaxed.
        We need to get to the table, we should – as a community – not beat each other with a stick or harsh words on twitter og FB.
        The past 2 years have shown that the time is ripe for a more dedicated and complete discussion and follow-up action on this issue.
        I am pretty sure the UCI knows already but we only hear and relate to what’s on SoMe and other medias, not what is happening in the “engine room”.

    • Regarding the liability issue – you’ll never get an organiser to take on full liability for all crashes. It would potentially bankrupt them. If riders attempt to do that, the organiser will refuse to hold the race. Most organisers are doing it for a love of the sport, because they’re really not making much money doing this.

      The issue of liability is extremely complex and a crash event is just as complex. It would be impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of any crash in terms of liability. The legal result would be to share the blame between the organiser, the fallen rider him/herself (they’ll share a portion of the blame), riders in front of the rider, the volunteer marshal who didn’t stand in front of the post with a flag, etc. Do you see how complex this could get? There could end up being many parties with a share of the blame.

      The only way to solve this is for the CPA/AIGCP to pay for a course safety inspector to work with the organiser on course design and then on final course review. This staff would ultimately cost each rider a small fraction (maybe 0.5% or 1%) of their salary.

  3. If cycling ever has to be compared and measured as a business it’s around safety, as it involves the peloton that on a daily basis is exposed to potential hazards in the workplace. And there are a lot of great examples how businesses and industries look after their people.
    Since the peloton is working on your premises (in this the Vuelta), I would argue that it’s your duty of care to look after them. In this case I would think it’s the Vuelta that needs to look after its people (or dare I say ‘contractors’). The UCI may be the governing body but just like a government cannot be held responsible for incidents in the workplace, neither can the UCI but it can (and should) set standards and enforce those. It should act as the regulator.
    The organisers of big races should look at high-risk industries where safety is managed in a mature way, and these industries include aviation, mining and the oil and gas industries. If there is anything these industries do well it’s making an effort to keep their people safe in an environment that has a high risk associated with them. The number of barriers that are put in place in aviation to avoid incidents in staggering to a lay-man person but it is done for a very good reason. Similarly, mature oil and gas companies have a very well designed framework in place to keep oil and gas platforms safe. It’s not to say that accidents do not happen but investigations usually reveal that safety procedures are not followed, corners are cut due to costs or shareholder pressure, or individual companies are not as mature as they should be. But this has very little to do with industry best practices and safety frameworks of mature companies.
    Cycling race organisers need to have a coffee with representatives from these industries to get an understanding what it takes to make a work place safe. And that starts at the top: a CEO of a race needs to embrace a mature safety framework and implement that through the organisational layers below him/her. If people at the top do not care enough about making a workplace safe, its maturity degrades, it certainly will not develop further and accidents will continue to happen. So my suggestion would be: have a look out of the window, have a coffee with Qantas, Air France/KLM, BHP, Shell etc. and ask them how they do it. Go to a safety conference, employ staff who know how design these frameworks to make a workplace safe and adapt them to the needs in a bike race. Great conversation for a sponsor-organisor chat in the VIP lounge at the end of a bike race.

    • Excellent post Dimitri, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      I distinctly remember the head of a consortium taking pride in announcing that no major accidents (no deaths or serious injuries) had occurred over a six year period during which a large bridge was built. In the previous century such a project would cost the lives of dozens of men and the public would accept this as an unfortunate but unavoidable loss. Cycling race safety desperately needs to enter the 21st century!

    • All valid points and well argued of course, but the industries you have mentioned all generate huge quantities of cash. Bike racing doesn’t.

    • ‘The organisers of big races should look at high-risk industries where safety is managed in a mature way, and these industries include aviation, mining and the oil and gas industries. If there is anything these industries do well it’s making an effort to keep their people safe in an environment that has a high risk associated with them.’
      Dimitri, the oil and gas industries don’t do that in developing countries.
      And if you believe John Oliver, for one (google last week tonight oil safety), they don’t even do this in the USA.
      They only do it when they’re forced to do so.

      Back on topic, the same applies in cycling: you can either demand that safety is taken seriously and that action is taken, or you can accept that the authorities are doing all that they can. A lot of good ideas on these pages regarding cycling safety – none of them coming from the latter group.

      • J Evans, developing a safety culture in developing country is known to be difficult, exactly for the reason that the society and its culture are so different. Nor is it necessarily effective to try to develop a safety culture in a developing country according to Western values. With regards to the US, it comes down to maturity, something some operators clearly lack. I touched upon other reasons why accidents happen.
        The peloton is a Western society orientated affair, and I really believe that organisers should look to those industries for frameworks and best practices, given that your business revolves around people doing ‘manual work’. Making a workplace safe is not easy. And sharing frameworks and best practices is not expensive. Those industries have got more than a 100 years of experience and learnings around safety are widely shared, not held confidential. This is one for the race organisers, not the authorities.

        • You have more faith in the oil/gas industry than I do. I’m sure if they wanted to make their places safe – in whichever country – they could.

  4. Professional riders–from the lowliest to the mightiest–need to form a labor union; like the actor’s guild, to have collective bargaining power at the negotiating table to protect their rights–and their necks–to counterbalance the one-sided, overwhelming power of the race organizers, the UCI, and their own teams, in some instances. Aside from the obvious advantages of having superior negotiating strength, such a labor union could cause to be enacted a workers’ compensation fund, in case of on-the-job accidents leading to debilitating injury or death, and can even maintain some sort of retirement fund for riders to rely upon at the end of their careers, be it long or short. Currently, there are no such safety nets, which form the bases of modern day employment in nearly every developed country in the world.

    And no, . . . the CPA does not come close to filling this role for the pro rider today.

  5. Inrng – thank you for posting about this topic.

    I took a bit of time to look through the UCI documents and the CPA documents. I again want to make a comparison to Alpine Skiing.

    In order to host a ski race – the FIS defines what positions the race organizer must fill. The race organizer then selects people to hold these positions that are accredited, i.e. have taken a class to understand the principles and rules, as well as passed the corresponding position test, every few years. For the most part race organizers are relying on volunteers, that go away on their own dime, to become certified. In addition to the accredited roles there are other positions that don’t require passing a standardized test.

    I contrast that with the UCI – which designates seven positions – but doesn’t require any certification of these organizer positions.

    You can basically place any Tom Dick or Harry in these different roles. Perhaps they read the UCI handbook 20 years ago, perhaps the read it each year, or perhaps they skimmed it a few times. More importantly, I would venture to guess the role get filled based upon who knows who. The UCI hand book does mention Safety – but not safety first attitude – that Alpine ski officials are forced to think about it constantly.

    It is clear why the motor cycle and car accidents happened after looking at the UCI handbook – lack of testing. I know they made recently made some improvements. This is how lax this was before – “Thus the organiser should choose the drivers of vehicles traveling in the race convoy with the greatest of care. Drivers should be experienced and have a good knowledge of cycle races and the manner in which they tend to unfold. ”

    I would suggest that UCI hand book needs a rewrite along with slew of accreditation tests to make folks take it seriously. They my say this is to much of a burden – but I ask why can other sports manage the process with volunteers? Crap – given the time, I suspect the readers on this site, that seem to have a high level of biking and general intelligence could do a pretty darn good job.

    I think the CPA is trying to improve things, but may not have the experience yet. I would suspect they will likely be continually thinking of improvements that can be made – which would be normal for small and establishing organization. If I remember right the CPA is very modest in size and thus personality driven (or limited).

    • Interesting and we’d all like to see something like this. It would require a big shift in the UCI’s competences and abilities to do this, to become more involved in race promotion. It does have a World Tour delegate but perhaps the race officials could do this.

      As you say the CPA is small too but it collects substantial amounts from the riders in a levy on prize money.

    • There would be if the riders could lobby harder for the parties to get around table, they’re probably the deciding factor here. Only when they tweet frustration it’s a sign that they can’t talk to the UCI properly (and that, like everyone, they don’t know the rules).

  6. There are many ways to identify and mitigate hazards on a race route.

    Firstly you need committed professional staff that identify and then triple check work requested has been properly completed – plus back-up crew and back-up yellow flag staff to ‘take over’ any recent hazards.

    As to standards of driving, one HC race in the Far East has rented its cars and drivers from Avis. Many have never seen a bike race before and they sleep in the car as no overnight provision is made for them. Next morning the resulting air quality is not too good and accidents happen as they tire and lose their concentration.

    So much more needs to be done before next season starts.

  7. UCI has fairly well established that faults in the course are not their responsibility, so efforts to shove this issue onto their plate are a waste of time. CPA/AIGCP needs to step up here. Dues paid by the riders should be increased to cover the costs of the safety reps needed. When/if the safety rep discovers dangerous conditions during his recon, the organizers are notified. If the problem is not remediated to the rep’s satisfaction he gives word to a designated rider in the race peloton. He communicates the danger and it’s approximate location. When the peloton reaches this point (or 3km, whichever comes first) the race is neutralized and the entire peloton rides slowly as a group to the finish. No histrionics, just a go-slow, non-race from the site of the problem to the finish. I have a tough time believing these issues would not soon be a thing of the past after a couple of demonstrations like this by riders united in the goal of forcing organizers to follow the rules. They seem to be united for go-slows AFTER someone is killed, why not do a few before and prevent more deaths and serious injuries?

    • EXACTLY – CPA/AIGCP are the ones who are taking this risk, so for them not to do something about this is ridiculous. Of course, the race organiser probably should do this, but at the end of the day, most race organisers don’t make any money and they aren’t seeing the course from the perspective of the riders – the might miss major issues.

      If you do the math, the cost of a dedicated safety rep isn’t a lot per rider.

      Where do I sign up?!?

    • Another way of potentially doing this, for one day races at least, is to have the Chief Commissaire do a review of the course and operations plans with the race director, technical director, or ops team a day or 2 before the race. The Chief Comm is already traveling to the event (at the organizers expense), so the cost is incremental. If the riders elect to have a representative attend at their expense, few would object.

      However, stage races are a different matter all together, since it will take 1 day to review each stage. A designated team (outside of the regular race Comms and Technical staff) would need to do things a day or two in advance of the rest of the race.

      Anyone individual doing a review and certification would need to be indemnified, and have a published set of standards to judge against.

      Keep in mind that Comms are licensed by the UCI, and are not employed by them. Also most UCI licensed Comms have day jobs; cycling is their hobby, not their full time profession.

  8. Agreed with Inrng – you can’t put this on the UCI. Each stakeholder, especially the riders and their union (because honestly, it’s THEIR body parts that are in jeopardy), needs to pony up, spend x amount of dollars on a person to do the final safety review of the race course.

    This person can do a preliminary review of the course dangers (a few weeks prior, or whatever) and then review the course on the day of to double check all dangers, and then ensure that the dangers are either fixed, or communicated to the riders.

    If each stakeholder (teams, riders and organizers) shares teh cost of this person, it won’t cost much per person/team/organiser. Plus, then we don’t need to hear the blame game – which goes on way too much in our sport.

    • It’s been reported that Kruijswijk and Lotto NL Jumbo are seeking compensation from ASO / Unipublic. Not formally, as of yet.
      It would set a very dangerous precedent for cycling and, I would suggest, may force the UCI to rule about safety checks.
      Because the organisers reply to Kruijswijk’s request, if correct and in context, was complacent to say the least.

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