On Risk and Safety Improvements

Seeing so many riders on the ground in Dwars Door Vlaanderen and then the Tour of the Basque Country was grim. The fact that so many star names were involved has invariably given these incidents more prominence; more than the huge crash in the Roue Tourangelle a couple of weeks back. Unjust but if it leads to more debate and eventual safety measures than it might benefit all.

Safety improvements have been a regular topic, rightly so. Changes are coming but they can’t come soon enough. And they won’t solve everything, far from it.

There are more rules and regulations on safety than ever but the feeling in the peloton is that races aren’t getting any safer at all. Roads are more perilous thanks to more street furniture; racing more intense with riders wanting to go into a corner or a climb ahead of others and it’s not just a variation of the “there’s no respect these days” refrain from senior riders, neo-pros remark on the intensity of a World Tour peloton too, of just how difficult it can be to maintain position in the peloton.

It’s hard to know if there are more crashes these days but the UCI is now keeping a “race incidents database” that logs most crashes with accompanying details. It might be where UCI boss David Lappartient got his line last week that 50% of crashes are caused by riders.

Instead of UCI rule tweaks here and there from the top down there’s a new collective procedure designed to get riders, teams, organisers and the governing body together. This project, presented on the eve of last year’s Tour de France (pictured), is called “SafeR”, as in Safe Road cycling. A UCI press release about SaferR says:

SafeR will be funded jointly by the organisers, riders, teams and the UCI. The entity will be responsible for:
– analysing the risks relating to the routes of UCI WorldTour, UCI Women’s World and UCI ProSeries races;
– providing safety advice to stakeholders in professional road cycling, in particular to the UCI;
– carrying out safety audits on race organisers and teams (including their riders);
– publishing quarterly safety reports.

Analysis, audits, advice, quarterly reports? It sounds like corporate jargon and it’s for 2025 and beyond while an anxious peloton wants a more urgent response today.

SafeR though sounds promising, there are gains to be had from better information and analysis. One idea is “never waste an accident”, so any crash can be informative and helps to prevent the next one. In some domains, take aviation, and accidents just can’t happen. Pro cycling is a difficult arena as risk-taking is part of the competition, we implicitly tolerate a degree of crashes. A brief look into the world of downhill skiing sees similar concerns, and also arguments raging over proposed safety measures. In pro cycling SafeR can help here as it brings together all sides and puts safety on the agenda from the start. But it’s more a process than a solution.

If SafeR is for 2025, we’re set to see a football-style yellow and red cards this summer. A rider that pulls a bad move will get a warning, do it again and they can be suspended. Bans happen already, you might remember Filip Maciejuk’s move in the Tour of Flanders last year that got him a one month suspension. Here the idea seems to be to give more warnings for smaller, risky moves that may not cause immediate harm or danger and to make them visible: calling out dumb moves. A bit like the UCI’s moves to clamp down on littering, this could cause teething problems if riders are singled out while others act similar but aren’t sanctioned, and it might take a few months and even suspensions for attitudes to change. The ban of the “supertuck” position was similar with noise and misapprehension in the moment and now quietly accepted.

Part of the plans including making safety more standardised, like adopting the same signage for all races so that visual cues about danger ahead can be processed quickly rather than open to interpretation, also shared standards for crash barriers. The big operators like ASO, RCS and Flanders Classics are cited as examples for other races to follow – they are not perfect either – but this means having their resources and networks. How to ensure smaller races are as good? Or put simply: who pays? There is a common interest for everyone. Race organisers want a safer sport as a Ronde without Van Aert isn’t as good, ditto a Tour sans Vingegaard, Roglič and Evenepoel. Riders have an interest here too, they literally have skin in the game. Coordinating the politics of all this is a delicate mission to put it mildly but there is a collective gain to be had.

Speed is one factor blamed for the incidence and severity of accidents. Bikes are faster, true; but they also stop quicker and grip better than ever. This is paradoxically part of the problem as these gains are banked such that if stopping times are shorter you can ride closer to the wheel in front and brake later: there is less precaution. Only there’s surely no going back, it’s hard to make bikes slower for racing in practice; sure it might be safer to supply every rider with one of those Airhubs that increase resistance but would the peloton and public buy in? Bike brands are a team’s second source of income after the title sponsors and it’s hard to tell the industry to back off on marketing faster equipment given the sport functions as a shop window for the industry. Theoretically there could be some you could try to get the peloton to slow down by adding even wider tires. Why not rule a return to jerseys and shorts instead of speedsuits? Marginal, and someone reading this at a clothing company will already be thinking how to make the fastest jersey-shorts outfit. Which again brings the collective dilemma: the peloton might want more safety as a whole but the moment the new rules appear, individually riders are incentivised to arbitrage the rules to get the jump on their rivals.

One topic regarding speed is limiting the gears used. Not long ago 53×11 was the top gear. Now a 54 chainring is standard and 56T, even 58T are not uncommon. Several riders have mentioned how this is adding to the risks, the peloton can speed through towns littered with street furniture like never before; descents can be raced hard when they were freewheeled before (even if still cornered fast). Philippe Gilbert raised gearing during his tenure on the UCI’s Road Commission, active pros have cited it on social media recently too. But where to set the limit, a 54T? This feels an indirect way to address speed, if the incentives to attack on a descent still exist would we not see riders bobbing frantically at 120rpm? Still, it might be worth trying and to see what the feedback from the peloton is.

One of the perils here is the responses are some kind of Rohrschach test which reveals preoccupations. If you think race radios are spoiling racing then you might want them banned, in the name of safety. If you think TT-style helmets in road races with riders racing behind visors is making the sport look too remote then you might suggest banning TT-style helmets, for safety of course in order to reduce speeds. Likewise for disc brakes, power meters and GPS devices, even carbon frames have been cited in recent days as blame-worthy.

One idea is keeping race radio but with one common channel for the peloton to sharing course info and give urgent updates so that riders tackling a route can be informed of troubles ahead. Only surely this still prompts everyone to get up front and out of trouble? Or if the device becomes less useful riders might save weight and forget it.

Last week riders mentioned the use of finish bottles and caffeine, the suggestion that jittery riders are more crash-prone. Pro cycling led the way in banning tramadol because one of the effects its abuse was having was said to be rise in crashes. This was hard to prove and it made sense to ban anyway. A caffeine ban would hard to enforce, how to allow a cup in the morning versus a finish bottle laced with 300mg of caffeine? Here some sort of agreement among teams and riders could work if it was agreed to be a problem.

Incidence vs harm
So far, the ideas doing the rounds seem to be about reducing the number of crashes, limiting the incidence rate. There are other angles to explore like reducing the harm and severity of crashes. Some go together, for example if the peloton could be slowed then perhaps the rate of crashes might go down and so would the extent of the injuries.

Seeing Richard Carapaz and Enric Mas suffer wrist injuries of the opening day of the Tour last year invited ex post thoughts of why not at least start the hectic opening days of a grand tour with some added body protection? More recently, reading Het Nieuwsblad lately (€) has seen the use of an airbag suggested, something that is going to be adopted in skiing. Here a rider wears a sort of collar which can suddenly inflate to cushion a fall. You might have seen helmet versions but this is to protect the neck and upper body. Similarly wrist protection, the rigid kind used by beginner skaters could help and other sports use various types of body armour. But in a sport where riders jettison empty gel wrappers to save weight for a summit finish this would probably require regulation and compulsion. Unthinkable? Well you’re now thinking about it here. If it’s a cultural change, helmets were long unthinkable in competition and now the reverse is true.

Reducing the incidences of crashes is one aspect to explore and the sport is trying to do this, there have been many rule changes over the years. The SafeR joint-initiative is the next part of this and offers the possibility of more comprehensive cultural change. Reducing the severity and harm from injuries could be another angle to explore too.

Exploring the issues around SafeR and ideas raised by riders in recent days in a blog post is one thing. But having done the walk-through it feels like a sidestep too: we’re not addressing the root causes. Pro cycling is inherently dangerous and the radical position is to ask how many crashes are acceptable and what level of injuries and worse is tolerable? It’s a tough question to ask, and harder to answer even given so much is out of control.

69 thoughts on “On Risk and Safety Improvements”

  1. One problem with the red/yellow card thing – the issues that I see in the peloton are not bad behavior by aggressive riders, they are collective issues. A relatively normal descent became dangerous because the peloton rode piano up the ascent and as a result an unusually large group did the descent together, combined with riders wanting to be at the front for “safety”, which is basically a positive feedback loop – as the riding gets riskier, the more the impetus to be on the front.

    There’s obviously nothing there to red/yellow flag and it’s not clear anyone did anything “wrong”. A large group doing a descent all together is always dangerous, which is why some of the worst Grand Tour crashes I can remember in the last few years have been on break or medium mountain stages where the group doesn’t get stretched or broken up. Really, teams need to stop with the mindset that they must be on the front at all times, but that’s a classic game theory tragedy that isn’t likely to happen without going to back to the patron-dictator model.

  2. Safety is of paramount importance. I think everyone would agree. How to reach this happy state is the difficult question. From my personal observations there are two obvious areas which would help. One simple and the other more problematic.
    The easy one first. Race radios serve very little useful purpose, other than to ensure the entire bunch is instructed to be at the front at the same point in time. This causes utter chaos and with it the inherent risk of crashes. Why riders require someone sat in an air conditioned car to tell them what to do is mind boggling. Get rid of race radios.
    The second is a little more difficult, and will almost certainly require more marshalls/costs. Road ‘furniture’, I call these structures obstructions, is growing exponentially in many European countries. These structures are designed with motorists in mind, not cyclists. The only solution for these dangerous conditions is decent warning signage and more marshalls These road obstructions tend to be hidden from the field of vision in the bunch.
    Riders ultimately must be responsible for their own safety be it on descents, corners, finishers, line outs, etc. We still see riders on foot/cycle paths, throwing litter outside disposal zones, lengthy sticky bottle moments. Most go without sanction, and safety will probably end up the same without uniform application.

    • I think taking radios away could be worth a try, as in a trial in some races to see what the feedback is (they are only for .1 races and above) but am not convinced it would make a big difference. Some readers might remember the teams and the UCI had a spat over this before, although the UCI’s motivation was trying to make racing more lively and the teams were worried about losing control. Both sides could shake hands on trials over several seasons in some randomly selected races and see what the feedback is.

      One thing spreading among teams at the moment is having the pre-race briefing on the team bus… the day before. These briefings are now so long and detailed – an hour is possible – that there’s not time in the morning before a race so it’s done on the eve. Riders get told where to be at what place, and which bit of road before is suitable for moving up etc. Basically a lot of the instructions are given here and less via radio.

      • There’s no meaning in maintaining the radios. At any rate, the racing doesn’t lose anything by eliminating race radios, and it doesn’t matter if the peloton or the DS think otherwise.

        • Might not lose anything, but there would definitely have to be adjustments by the riders (see everyone’s favorite mathematician* at the 2020 Olympics road race)

          On consideration, maybe radio between the riders and race control instead of team car would work. Mechanical? RC notifies appropriate team car. Emergency (someone fall off cliff, medical emergency, road problems…) RC needs to know. But riders would have to be more reliant on their own judgment and tactical nous.

          Screens could be a problem if they become 2-way or otherwise interactive, and it’s probably better to deal with that earlier than later.


      • Getting rid of radios to stop them continuously telling riders to get to the front might help reduce some of the chaos but there might be other consequences.

        I think the riders knowing what the race situation is makes for better racing. Obviously there are lots of instances where this has not been the case in races both with and without radios such as the 2019 Amstel Gold or the 2021 Olympic Road Race but I would imagine it is harder to communicate to rider’s what is going on from a chalk board on a motorbike than from a radio. How many chalk boards are there in a race for when the race really splits up. The TV or the live tracking show multiple groups on the road but it might be a bit harder to communicate this on a chalk board.

        I also think being able to communicate mechanicals or other issues to the team car is going to work better than just putting your hand up or waiting for the director to see it on TV, as there will be instances where these will be missed.

      • Another point to note about race radios. The hardware, transmitters and batteries are normally located high on the rear of the riders back. One assumes for better reception from the DS. They are generally fairly large and placed just above or on the rear of the rib cage. It’s not just the instructions that cause problems. The hardware is just as potentially dangerous in a crash.

        Banning these unnecessary items will increase safety and only damage the sensitivity of DSs, not the racing.

        • If there’s no ban, there’s a prize and hundreds of orders coming if someone can build a short range radio with bluetooth for the earpiece that fits inside the bike and therefore counts towards the weight of the bike.

          We’re also seeing a few riders position radios in order to have the best effect as a fairing, eg sometimes on the front of the chest.

    • @BC, I’m not sure I’d agree to your blanket statement: “Safety is of paramount importance”. I think that statement gets overused to the point it is meaningless. Road cycling at all levels is inherently very very unsafe. Wearing millimeter-thin underwear while riding at 45 kph (or the 25 kph I do) is a total capitulation to the fact that safety is NOT of PARAMOUNT importance. Instead, all road riders, whether pros or weekend warriors, are always deliberately sacrificing safety for speed and comfort.

      So it is more realistic to say “Safety should be improved”… that seems more like something we could all agree on. And go from there with constructive ideas like your point BC about getting rid of radios, and other ideas in the INRNG blog post and all over these great comments : )

      speaking of road furniture, the collision that Laurenz Rex had with the padded sign in this year’s Roubaix was a great example of safety progress, versus the scary ‘Offredo’ moment (linked by Inrng in the previous Paris-Roubaix post) a decade prior involving a sharp and totally unpadded metal sign!

      • Rex’s crash is also an example of why the organisers have such a tough task to stop accidents: he simply wasn’t looking where he was going.

    • I don’t know whether taking the radio away is good or bad for safety. Suffice to say, doing so as a safety measure is neither simple nor non-controversial. It may seem so to you, but it would be very different for other stakeholders.

      The reason why some past UCI initiatives fail were precisely because someone somewhere jumped in and decided this is going to be how things are done hence forth without gaining wider support first. Taking the view that some party’s view are not valid/should be ignored is exactly the way to make sure this goes nowhere.

  3. I seem to recall seeing something from a few years ago about riders (presumably from DSM) having shorts with dyneema stitched into the fabric of their bib shorts to provide protection in the event of a fall. I assume it would only stop the fabric ripping and the ensuing road rash rather than offer any protection from impacts.

      • After a race crash I bought bibshorts from Armaurto, which stitches inserts into the hip area of the shorts. The protection is very thin – a couple of millimeters and barely noticeable – but supposedly meets standards for motorcycle racing protection. I do not notice them when I’m racing. They claim the inserts reduce the impact forces of a crash by 80%, which could likely mean the difference between a bruise or a break. They also market a baselayer with similar inserts at the shoulder and elbow. Again, the idea is to reduce crash impact consequences and abrasions. I don’t doubt other manufacturers could do something similar. If racers were mandated to wear protection this would help. No other sport puts their athletes in competitive situations without appropriate safety equipment. Why does cycling do so when there are ways to reduce racer injuries? It benefits no one for racers to get hurt so why not find ways to reduce the risk and severity.

        • The protection used in those bibshorts isn’t close to an 80% reduction in impact force. They’re using EN1621-1 padding, which is impressive for something only 4 mm thick, but it won’t turn an impact that would break a bone into a bruise. Here’s some Wikipedia info:

          Moreover these wouldn’t do anything for the most common broken bone, the clavicle, since that bone usually breaks when force is transmitted from the hand or elbow up through the arm.

          I do think there’s a place for this kind of padding in cycling, but given standard cycling kit, there are very limited places it can go, especially compared to the outfits motorcyclists wear.

          • There are no doubt performance impacts as well with it being hotter and less aerodynamic.

            No-one plans to come off their bike but they do wear gloves and a helmet because of those eventualities. I’m surprised reducing road rash isn’t of more interest as well. I know they will still end up bruised but at least they wouldn’t stick to their bed sheets.

  4. This was a really interesting piece, thanks @inrng.

    Most striking line for me was ““never waste an accident”. 100% agree. For that, the first thing we need is the facts – what are actually the biggest causes of accidents? Is it large groups descending together rapidly, as per the first reply to your article? Or road furniture, as per the second? Or teams being instructed to get to the front, as per both?

    All this suggests there should be a simple process, in the first instance, of making every rider who’s crashed fill out a quick questionnaire after the stage. Had you been told to get to the front? Do you think others had? Do you think it was your own rider error, or someone else’s, or neither? If rider error, what kind? etc etc.)

    First priority is surely to actually gather information about what’s contributing to crashes, rather than just our impressions or prejudices. *Then* act on it.

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece, anyway.

    • The post-crash rider survey is a good idea IMO. Hansen and the CPA could run this if they really care about safety. Individual surveys might be muddied with emotion and potential brain injury, but surely aggregate data would be useful as to the causes, at least in vague terms.

    • Fantastic idea. Many of the crashes are also analysed ad nauseum by the media, often coalescing to one broadly similar opinion, why not also take advantage of that by SafeR following a few main stream outlets and collecting that data for the crashes that provoke media discussion.

  5. I don’t see why limiting gears and rules about equipment are such a controversial subject. All sports have such rules. You can’t use a cricket bat as wide as your house, goalkeepers can’t wear enormous reinforced gloves etc. Limit gears, ban aero frames, limit wheel rim depth etc. I genuinely wouldn’t care. I find the endless tech talk deeply tedious, nearing on a turn off.

    • Some people love the tech as well. The controversial part is having bikes that aren’t the best, lightest, most aero etc; it’d be like motorsport where you could buy a Lamborghini for yourself to drive the streets that is faster than the “competition” version that has 7th gear blocked off etc. The sport works as the shop window for the industry and to move away from this would be a fundamental shift.

      • As you say, its a fundamental shift that has been successfully implemented in almost every category of motorsport, on safety and cost reduction grounds. There’s no reason it can’t be done in cycling.

      • That already happens, though, in motorsport. A lot. Production based sportscars (GT3/LMGT3) have a mind-bogglingly complex system of power restriction and weight limits to ensure a certain “balance of performance”. A stock Ferrari 296 makes > 800 hp (seriously, who needs that) and a Porsche 911GT3 a bit over 500 (still overkill) but in race trim both make a bit over 600 hp. Similarly, that Ducati V4R you can buy in the showroom has a 900 rpm greater redline than the World Superbike version, whereas a Honda Fireblade has a higher rpm limit in race trim than in road, again to maintain a competitive series. People moan about it all the time, but accept it as a part of the sport anyway. I don’t think BOP makes much sense for bicycles, but a tech limit might not be a bad thing.

        • And the best racing is almost always in the more heavily restricted classes. E.g., Moto2 and Moto3 races – heavily restricted designs, down to requiring a spec motor provided by the race series organiser in Moto2 – are generally much better to watch than MotoGP!

        • In the wider world, electrification is going to render a lot of this ‘performance vehicle’ chat moot: anyone who has seen a Tesla merge on a motorway will tell you the world of performance has changed.

          From a UCI standpoint, I wonder how much consideration is given to the vehicles used in and around races (aside from product placement)?

          The commissaires used a BMW i5 that seemed to be in every shot of the favourites (was it following MVDP at the Ronde?) The i5 is essentially silent, weighs 2.3Te unladen and has the same footprint as a Range Rover, makes
          600 hp and 0-60 is well under 4 seconds… is that really an appropriate choice of vehicle to be a close quarters in a bike race? Even with a highly trained driver, I doubt it.

          There was also footage of a one-up motorcycle passing the peloton by riding on the (wet) grass verge in a recent race: he was close enough to the riders to take a gel, and for a long time. It looked like an insane risk to take, but it didn’t draw any comment that I’m aware of.

        • Yeah, we see this in motorsport regularly……..it’s not an issue. Cycling is far too resistant to change…..and why we see crashes, and no solutions/ actions.

          There’s all kinds of things to slow things down if needed……
          Ban TT bikes, limit aero tech, have increased weight limits, limit the size of brake rotors, have a spec tyre for certain races….etc

          There’s a whole raft of things that could be done – but won’t because cycling is far too conservative.

          • The sport won’t ban “Ooh latest Aero shiny shiny!” (socks, proprietary cockpits, TT rigs, etc. etc.) cause it’s beholden to manufacturers who want to sell stuff.

            Also, those times when the UCI _does_ try to ban stuff, lots of fans whinge about it online.

      • There’s already a weight limit. And limits to the shape of the bikes. You can add many more limits, in such a way that not only speed is reduced, but also reckless riding is discouraged.
        I suspect some reasoning may be influenced by the idea that if tech advances are not continuously introduced (thus making bikes and components obsolete quicker) and regulations keep bike standards more permanent, less bikes would get sold and for less money, which would be bad for the industry’s balance sheets. Which would perhaps mean less money going to the pro teams and riders. But, would that be actually a bad thing? The public would keep more money in their pockets, the races would be slower and safer, and there would be less money in an inflated sport that sometimes uses it for illegal medical help and lawfare.
        Another aspect of speed control is the race distance (that you don’t mention). The longer the stage, the lower the average speed, the safer the rider. And another very important aspect of safety: peloton size. With two sub-aspects: the size of the field at the start (aren’t 120 riders perfectly enough?), and the selectiveness of the course (the more selective the thinner the peloton).

  6. 1st weeks of grand tours could be designed to be more comfortable for GC contenders.

    I guess we’re all different, but caffeine surely helps concentration for some people.

    The relation is superlinear for speed vs distance so even a small reduction in speed could be beneficial, leave speed record chasing to track cycling.

  7. I strongly dislike the crashes and their severity – so I very much welcome discussions around mitigating these risks. I would never advise an aspiring young cyclist to go into pro tour road cycling. Cross, Gravel, and Mtb seem so much safer in that there is much less pack racing (ok – gravel has more and more pack racing) and much more single file.
    The comments about reducing speed and taking some risk out of first week grand tour stages (could the gc be neutralized for the first week as long as you finish within 3-4% of winners time – let stage hunters stage hunt). I’d be all for pro tour having to ride the same much slower wheels (32 spoke box rim specials with 32 wide tires?) except for tts (and of course everything goes for track records). maybe make at least one TT in grand tour a 2 mountain with one descent special??

    • My forecast is that road cycling will absorb gravel by becoming it. It just takes one major historic road race going 50% gravel and the paradigm will have changed. Of course, the industry will always prefer a more “specialized” sport with more special disciplines. But road racing going gravel only has advantages, especially in places where authorities are quickly becoming very reluctant to closing roads to traffic.

  8. Caffeine is on WADA’s montoring program this year. I don’t think they’re worried about a guy having a couple of espressos before a race, more what’s in the “finishing bottles”.

    • Its a fair point. Ineos entered that 18 year old AJ August in Paris-Roubaix. They hadn’t even ridden the junior version. Is that a sensible thing to do?

      • Not to argue the point as I agree in some respect, but why not let AJ get experience there? He’s a decorated Jnr CX rider, so he can handle the terrain. I guess my question in response to that pov is where/how do you draw a line? Some form of requirement to race the U23 ranks before turning pro?

    • It’s a fair point, some riders with “big engines”, often from the US, Australia etc find it difficult to cope with the peloton and the Alpine descents and they’re not just a danger to themselves here. This can be learned, Luke Plapp said he was a liability here but worked on it with a coach and resolved it.

      Likewise, things taken for granted like picking up a musette need to be practiced because riders coming out of the junior ranks haven’t done it before.

      • The races are on roads from the last century in most cases. They race at 10X the speed now?

        A former world tour pro told me the fighting in the northern classics is insane due to the wind and tiny roads. He also said that with helicopters and fans – you can barely understand the radios in most cases.

        He also shared how hard it is to eat in some of the races on tiny roads – getting feeds, having time to take your hands of the bars in the peloton. Why the UCI doesn’t do neutral bottle service on motorbikes like the major tours is beyond me.

        The new 100+grams of carbs per hour probably adds distracted riding in the pack.

    • Docker is right. I said it before. Many newer younger lack experience and respect for other riders. And they don’t listen. They all saw it before on YouTube so they know it all. And they don’t like any of those old guys telling them when they’re wrong.
      A big engine is only one of many things required to build a bike rider.
      Case in point. Remco.
      Played soccer for 11 years. Started when he was 5. That’s experience.
      Switched to cycling and 2 years later he’s pro. 2 yrs experience ??? Not enough.
      There’s so many things we do from instinct. In traffic in the bunch setting up turns. Etc etc.

      • Funny “Many newer younger lack experience and respect for other riders.” – this is also what professional car racers are saying as well.

        Alot of these kids are getting picked based on Physio testing and not racing acumen.

        • Motor racing has long been a joke sport where the talented suddenly run up against nepo kids like Norris or Sturlovich who mysteriously find themselves in the top tier. Even nepo cyclists like MvdP have to actually prove their physical prowess

  9. Given the hundreds of lots-time accidents every year and the increasing trend (PCS currently lists 129 for the season to date – though that includes some illness and training accidents – the great majority are racing), the UCI don’t have any alternative but to act.

    I watched drone shots of the recent Pays de la Loire Tour when on narrow roads riders were fighting a constant battle to avoid being forced onto the verges, keep close as a team, keep close to the front, and all with tight spacing to the rest. They looked ready to fall like skittles at the slightest misjudgement or unpredictable circumstance

  10. One thing that UCI can (and should) do is to exert greater influence over the design of the routes and the setup of safety equipment, including barriers. The President of the Commissaire Panel (aka Chief Commissaire) has the power to dictate changes to the course or cancel a race if they feel it is unsafe, but this authority seems to be rarely, if ever, used.

    Under UCI rules, the Chief Comm has the final say (and responsibility) for the safety of everyone involved. Right now, the power to review the course, check the safety measures and approve the entire setup appears to be a “box ticking” exercise in too many cases.

    • This is where the addition of a “safety manager” for each race can come in. The problem with commissaires is they are volunteers (they get expenses and a daily allowance but it’s €160 max for World Tour, Olympics) and so it’s hard for them to go and check things, plus if they do they take on liability. Now if they are a finish judge, giving some advice on the finish is sensible, walking the final kilometre makes sense of course but how much can they spot?

      • Does the UCI really have any teeth in this?

        Do the promoters pay the UCI anything for the technical inspectors, doping controls and road commissaires?

        Am I correct in that CPA got ASO to put the chicane in for Paris Roubaix? Not the UCI?

        • The UCI has a role but as ever, they might be the governing body but they don’t run the sport, they set and supply the rulebook. So with this yes, they supply the commissaires etc. As you say the chicane was a last-minute suggestion from the CPA.

      • I am a track commissaire in Australia plus have been a club-level road race director here and in New Zealand when I lived there, so I definitely understand the volunteer aspect (it costs me money to get licenced and I have never been paid more than a free drink and pizza). While the race organiser is solely responsible for the safety of all participants and spectators, according to the UCI, I still walk/drive as much of the course as I can before the start so I know where the hazards are and can make sure the organiser has a plan for them.

    • Accidents also happen on wide roads with no obstacles, due to riders not paying attention. Part of racing are the difficulties we select, like cobblestones, the poggio descent etc. Car racing went from Mille Miglia on open roads to closed circuits. Nobody wants that for cycling( I think, it would be safer).
      More protective clothing maybe. We did go from never a helmet to who still rides without. ( we also went from poor Jan Janssen who had to wear corrective glasses to everybody wears glasses).

  11. Lot’s to unpack here but I think at the root of it, speed is the issue. Rolling resistance, aerodynamics, gearing, carbohydrate absorption rate….everything is all-time-optimal levels. They’re going faster than the doped up guys in the 90’s!

    Larry will come at me with the marketing mogul fallacy, but I race US criteriums. Having started racing in 2011 I can say with confidence that the equipment and approach has improved. Substantially.

    Look back to the piece on Cofidis’ losing streak. The ones who are doing everything right are going really, really, fast. The ones who aren’t doing everything right are trying to cover the gap with watts/effort/risk…sometimes all 3, with disastrous results.

    Try pushing 300W into the pedals for 4 hours straight and see how well you handle a technical descent.

    Of course the route and road furniture plays it’s part…but that stuff has always been there no? Now there’s less time to react…and more hypoxia!

  12. I could see One Cycling getting more of a foothold with this now. Similar to F1/FIA did about only approving certain courses for safety. Its lead to wide runoffs and other upgrades in motorsports.

    If One Cycling can muscle in on this I could see it as a teams, public opinion, fans and riders union vs RCS, ASO and other promoters. Mandates of rider safety on course could be the way the sport finally organizes itself commercially?

  13. Prudhomme was saying few months ago that the entire peloton (riders+car+motorcycles) was now in danger even when nothing particular happened, and that it appeared one year ago. The level grows very fast (all the races are beating their record average speed) and the safety adaptation can’t go this fast, especially because no one knows what would be efficient… Jacky Durand said on french Eurosport last week that he was sure that airbag would appear in races in “two to three years”.
    I’m not so sure anymore about race radios : nobody seems to really hear or understand them in the heat of the race. Maybe the problem is also where the riders are looking : we see a lot of them looking at their screen for power, roads to come, infos from the yesterday briefing or I don’t know, and also, more and more, some riders going in the front and looking back to see if their leader is still here. It’s incredibly dangerous : a lot of times they deviate a little, and when they stop their effort it’s still more dangerous. But I don’t know how to fix this. Yellow cards ?
    Personally I would start by banning all screens. But nobody would agree with me, mostly the riders 🙂 (except Larry of course).

    • I think screens and radios are symptoms, not causes. All races are raced much more aggressively from day 1 of the season and mile one of the race. Every team wants to be seen at the front, every team has a plan to get their guys to the front at the same time. Downhills are raced super aggressively. Radios aren’t the problem, but more and better video might be. If your job is to be at the front and your DS can see you lollygagging at the back in real time, with live video of even small races, then you’re going to feel more compelled to jam forward to save your job.
      Also I don’t think comparisons to motor sports are apt. The machine is power source, not the human. Cycling needs to look at other dangerous human powers sports for inspiration (rock climbing, I’m really not sure.

      • The screens is a good point I think. Garmins/Wahoos/whatevers dont just show time, distance, power, heart rate and cadence anymore. They can have millions of screens with all sorts of crap on there. Riders could be scrolling through page after page looking for info on their job for the day, nutrition etc. Even text messages from the team car. Anything that takes your attention away from the job at hand at the speeds they are doing is dangerous. If you say that combined, race radios and a bike computer are basically a smart phone then its easy to suggest that they should be banned in races. The riders are often doing speeds in excess of what normal every day people do in cars, and in much closer company. Try arguing with the Police that you should be allowed to mess about with your smartphone in busy traffic.

        • The key to managing ‘the screens’ for me is that they should be appropriately regulated, not banned.

          Instead of being a performance item which can be configured to supply all sorts of interesting info, they should be a regulated device with only the following functions:
          – displaying urgent race control information (i.e. flash yellow/red with a buzzer tone when caution/stop required) which would override all other functions
          – ‘dashboard’ screen with performance info (speed, distance covered/remaining, average speed etc)
          – next instructions from the official roadbook (2.9km left turn, 6km start KOM etc)
          – push buttons to request (by text message including location) mechanical/refreshment service or report an incident.

          With the new regulated racing computer handling the essential functions of receiving hazard warnings and transmitting requests for assistance back to the team or officials, radios could be immediately banned.

      • I get the comparisons to motorsports.
        If you race anything with wheels you need an engine and a driver.
        In cycling they are housed in the same body.

        • The similarity of both sports using race-adapted versions of ordinary transport vehicles makes it an obvious comparison. There’s also been quite a lot of crossover between the sports over time as well – think of Chris Hoy going all the way to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Simon Gerrans sticking with cycling after picking it up during rehab for a motorcycling injury, Valterri Bottas getting into gravel or the numerous other F1 drivers who clock up more hours on bikes than in racing cars every year.

          But the most important reason that motorsport should be considered is that the progress made on safety issues (both historically and ongoing) is absolutely incredible and cycling would do well to emulate this safety culture.

          Obviously nobody is going to be daft enough to suggest that specific measures be copied across. The lesson to learn is about the safety culture and the attitudes resulting from it, not specific measures.

      • Not rock climbing! The type of climbing done competitively is generally very low risk. Adventurous climbing is not a competitive sport but an individual’s challenge against the chosen route which s/he risk-assesses according to their ability and conditions, etc.

    • Also, Thévenet says in an interview to Eurosport than there is lot more fractures than before, and that it might be due to new diets and nutrition… I don’t know if it’s really the case, but let’s say the riders seem a little bit less robust than 40 years ago (compare Agostinho to Vingegaard…)

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