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Marcel Kittel has said that the widespread use of disc brakes is inevitable, but has also backed calls for the introduction of disc brake covers in pro cycling. The QuickStep Floors rider believes that the solution would help dispel concerns about technology he is convinced will play a big part in the sport.
On February 23 the German sprinter was tangled up in a crash with Team Sky rider Owain Doull close to the finish of stage one of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Doull claimed afterwards that Kittel’s disc brake rotor caused a long slice in his left shoe. This reawakened a debate which had surfaced after Fran Ventoso incurred a deep wound to his leg in a crash at last year’s Paris-Roubaix.
Ventoso claimed at the time that a disc brake rotor had caused the injury, although some questioned this afterwards. This included the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), who hired a forensic investigator that later refuted the Spaniard’s account.
While some doubt has also been raised about Doull’s claims, due partially to the location of Kittel’s wheel and disc rotor in the crash relative to the Briton’s foot, Kittel believes a modification to the equipment is warranted.
“I think we should do that,” he said, asked by CyclingTips if a rotor cover was needed. “If it helps or not, I think a lot of guys would feel more safe with it.
“It is an argument, of course, that disc brakes get hot. It could be possible that you burn yourself, so when we have a cover that protects us from that, then we should put it on. There should be no discussion about it.
“However, some improvements are already being done with the rounded discs.”
‘A major improvement’
The day after the crash with Doull, Kittel used regular brakes in winning the stage. However he made the equipment change to take the heat out of the debate rather than due to any personal concerns about the technology.
He said that there is no point in arguing against the proliferation of the equipment, believing that the brakes will become more and more widespread.
“For me there is no doubt that disc brakes will play a role in the future of cycling,” he stated. “There is for me absolutely no doubt about it. And I don’t say that because some people think that I have to do advertising for my sponsors. That’s not true. It’s just a major improvement.
“I raced with these brakes now in the first two days in Paris-Nice. And I have to say that in the downhills, it’s really a huge difference. I can take every corner faster. I can brake later. I feel also more safe on my bike, seriously.
“I have a better control over my bike. And that for me is a major improvement and also a major argument.”
Kittel points out that the professionalism of the sport is all about trying to find improvements. Consequently, his assertion that the brakes make a major difference also mean that they won’t go away.
“We have in a time in cycling now where it’s all about marginal gains,” he explains. “But suddenly there are disc brakes, which are not marginal gains but really huge improvement in the equipment of cycling. And we cannot refuse to use it, because it would make no sense if you look at the general development in cycling.
“We are talking about seconds [in the sport] – we are doing aero tests and wind tunnels and all that stuff, but then some say disc brakes make no sense, they are too dangerous.
“We really have to look at the way how we can make them safe, or how we can make them usable, so that everyone feels comfortable to use them. That’s a discussion that we have to lead, and not if the performance is good or bad. For me personally, there is no doubt about it.”
‘A million public opinions’
As much as Kittel is certain about the technology, he does have reservations about one thing: the way the debates have raged since their introduction.
He believes that the topic has become a battleground for various groups, inflaming the situation far more than if the technology was implemented differently.
“Of course, I saw the videos [about the Doull crash and claims],” he says. “What I don’t like in that whole process is that you have a million public opinions. And in the end, there are a lot of opinions now which should maybe have also been there earlier.
“But, for example, I think at that moment when that crash happened and that shoe broke, that is really the worst possible point to start a discussion about it. Because then it’s really too late.
“And it also doesn’t matter what I think….if I think it was the disc brake or not. It is just the wrong place to start a discussion. It also really doesn’t help if riders put their opinion on social media or if journalists start to really use that topic to make headlines. Or if the CPA starts a campaign against the UCI in that moment.
“That really doesn’t help because it doesn’t improve things. What really helps is that we start the discussion earlier. For me, I’m really not happy with what happened there, because it’s not good for anybody….”