After a string of horror crashes, riders protest over safety
The resumption of the cycling season has seen chaotic racing, an upended Ineos hegemony, and eager anticipation for the competition to come.
But over the past fortnight, there’s been one other constant: crashes.
Fabio Jakobsen faces a long road back to health after suffering major injuries in a Tour of Poland sprint crash. His teammate, Deceuninck-Quick Step prodigy Remco Evenepoel, is nursing a fractured pelvis after a terrifying crash on a technical descent at Il Lombardia.
Jumbo-Visma finished Critérium du Dauphiné with two fewer riders than it started with – Steven Kruijswijk and Primoz Roglic both crashed on the penultimate day, Kruijswijk suffering a dislocated shoulder and race leader Roglic failing to start the next day due to his injuries.
And Bora-Hansgrohe ended the weekend with an injuries list that included Gregor Muhlberger, Emanuel Buchmann – out of the Criterium du Dauphine with a hematoma in the same crash as Kruijswijk – and Maximilian Schachmann, who broke a collarbone in a crash with a non-race vehicle on the course of Il Lombardia.
The accumulated weight of those crashes – many of which were terrible, and some of which were plainly avoidable – has prompted a ripple of anger within the peloton. On the final stage of Critérium du Dauphiné, the first 10 km was neutralised by a protest. The rider representative body, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA), issued a statement calling into question the UCI’s safety procedures:
“At this year’s Criterium du Dauphiné, the riders, together with the CPA, have asked to neutralize the first 10 km of descent of the fifth stage of the French race, saying that it is too dangerous and mentioning what happened at yesterday’s 4th stage.
The riders want to send a clear signal of protest to both the organizers and to the UCI referring to the serious crashes and accidents that have occurred in the recent races, asking for greater attention to their safety.
The CPA asks the UCI and all stakeholders of cycling to set up a round table to start the revision of the regulations to get a clear feedback in terms of prevention and sanctions towards the race organizers. The purpose of this is to protect the physical integrity of the riders and to allow them to carry out their work in greater safety.”
The CPA and peloton’s ire was in large part due to a sketchy descent the stage before – the same descent that caused Kruijswijk and Buchmann to crash out. As an angry Tom Dumoulin explained after stage four, “it was a disgrace that that descent was in a race. The whole descent was really tricky but the first two or three kilometres were full of gravel, potholes, bumps in the road, 15% drops down … this downhill should never be in a race.”
But the high-profile crashes of Evenepoel and Schachmann on the same day, plus the lingering horror of the Jakobsen incident, has created a greater sense of urgency for change within the peloton.
On Sunday, Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge issued one of the most strongly worded statements on the topic to date, revealing that a number of teams have raised safety concerns.
“I have talked about this with other team leaders and we all say, we cannot continue to expose our riders to danger,” Plugge told Dutch TV channel NOS. “We no longer have confidence in the controls that the UCI does.”
At present, the UCI is solely responsible for giving approval to race organisers for course safety. In a heavily condensed season with the threat of a pandemic hovering over it, there’s a nervous energy to the racing and added pressures for race organisers.
“It just has to be different. Our helmet is tested 1,000 times, but at a race, the UCI is quick to say: it will be. That’s not okay,” Plugge said. “For example, there must be special conditions for the last kilometre with a bunch sprint, but also how barriers must be placed along the course. We hope that these can be introduced for next season. An [external] company can then say to the [UCI]: it must be better, this is not good enough. That way problems can be solved, because it simply has to be safer for our riders.”
The UCI has announced an investigation into the circumstances around Schachmann’s crash, saying “events on the UCI WorldTour calendar are of the highest level and require fully closed roads at all times. The UCI will consider lodging a complaint with the Disciplinary Commission against the event organiser RCS Sport.”
The organisation has issued no remarks over the safety of the Il Lombardia descent that saw Evenepoel crash, or the Dauphiné descent that saw Kruijswijk and Buchmann exit the race. Despite widespread concern about the safety of the Tour of Poland stage 1 finish, which saw Fabio Jakobsen suffer significant injuries, the UCI’s sole comment to date has been to refer Dylan Groenewegen to disciplinary proceedings.