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Disaster and controversy struck Stage 5 of the 2016 Vuelta a España, when several riders went down with injuries due to an unmarked traffic post with 2.5 kilometres remaining on the stage.
As the peloton looped around the Roman walls of Lugo, Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) tried to power away, taking advantage of a brief section of road that rises slightly.
They rode right past a bent bollard — a short, unmarked traffic post on the left side of the road.
Seconds later, as the chasing pack came barreling into Lugo, Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) struck the post. Along with him, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r La Mondiale) also crashed.
— Sara (@SaraGarciaGmez) August 24, 2016
Fortunately for Bakelants, he wasn’t injured in the accident. “Rien à signaler”, was the brief statement of his DS Julien Jurdie to CyclingTips — “nothing to report.”
Kruijswijk wasn’t so lucky. The Dutch rider broke his left collarbone and was forced to abandon the Vuelta, his “second big target” of the season after his breakout performance at the Giro d’Italia.
“My ribs and collarbone hurt a lot,” Kruijswijk said in a LottoNL-Jumbo team press release. “I crashed heavily into that pole. It’s terrible that I have to leave this race because of an object that shouldn’t have been there. I’m really fed up about the way I’m leaving this Vuelta.”
Once again there was controversy surrounding the closing kilometers of a WorldTour event. Why wasn’t the bollard signposted, as it should have been?
It is not the first time this kind of accident has happened in a Spanish race. Last year at the Vuelta al País Vasco, the arrival into Bilbao was marked by carnage when several riders hit a series of metal poles that had a plastic traffic cone as the only warning to the peloton, which was flying at top speed, the finish line within sight.
As a result of this, Sergio Pardilla and Peter Stetina suffered career-threatening injuries that sidelined them for months. Luckily, both have returned to racing. The American took part in the Tour de France last month, while the Spaniard is competing at the Vuelta. Both will suffer the effects of the crash for the rest of their lives, however, with several permanent injuries and limitations for each one of them.
“We don’t know what to say.” Those were the concerned words from a Vuelta official immediately after the incident. Afterwards, he whispered an explanation: Most bollards are removed from the road by local authorities; those that aren’t are supposed to be duly signaled with traffic cones, and sealed off, at the very least.
This bollard wasn’t, though.
Usually, those in the cars that drive ahead of the race watch carefully to flag any obstacle or last-minute problem they may find on the course. In this case, the Vuelta official said, the bollard was close to the pavement. “Probably the fans standing on the roadside hid it from their view somehow.”
And from another angle, the pole & the pavement where Kruijswijk received first aid. pic.twitter.com/Ec7Te52fBk
— Daniel Friebe (@friebos) August 24, 2016
Minutes later, the heads of the Vuelta organization – race director Javier Guillén plus technical directors Paco Giner and Fernando Escartín – met with José Luis de Santos, the Spanish representative for the professional riders’ association CPA. “They’ve accepted their full responsibility for this accident and they are worried about Kruijswijk’s health,” said de Santos.
Indeed, the concerned faces of the Vuelta principals were explicit. “They are just devastated,” a knowing, anonymous source told Cyclingtips. “They know this incident can hurt heavily the reputation of the race, especially after what happened last year with the motorbikes.”
Minutes after, the race director and the technical directors of the Vuelta locked themselves in a room with the race’s press officer to write a statement that was released by 8:30 p.m Wednesday evening.
“The organisation wishes to express its deepest regret for what happened,” read the statement. “An internal investigation has been opened to determine why there were no warnings or signposts, as originally planned.”
Last year there wasn’t any official apology from La Vuelta after Peter Sagan’s incident with a motorbike. The Vuelta al País Vasco didn’t issue any statement after the crash involving Pardilla and Stetina. It also didn’t contact them either.
Further consequences of this latest incident are unknown at this moment. CPA is evaluating the possibility of a protest tomorrow expressing their concerns. It will issue a press release later.
At the time of writing of this article, the UCI hadn’t reacted to the incident.