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The way to make bunch sprints safer, according to five-time world champion track sprinter Theo Bos, is to borrow sprint rules from the velodrome, specifically from keirin racing.
The 2020 race season saw a number of horrific sprint crashes and injuries, the worst of which came at the Tour of Poland, where Fabio Jakobsen was crashed by Dylan Groenewegen as Jakobsen tried to pass. Injuries from that crash were compounded by improperly secured barriers.
Bos, a five-time world champion on the velodrome who also made a brief foray into road sprinting, laid out his suggestions in a story in AD.nl. The most visible change would be the addition of two narrow sprint lanes, one on each side of the road, which would function like the sprint lane on a velodrome. The lanes would be about a meter in width, wide enough for one rider.
Within the final 300 meters, the front rider inside the sprint lane would not be allowed to leave it. Riders behind could leave the lane to pass, but entering it, while at the front, in the final 300m would mean a rider couldn’t exit again.
“This prevents riders from swerving all over the road – sprinters, but also lead-outs,” Bos said. “If you are at the head of the peloton at 300 meters in the sprinters’ section, then you stay there. Leaving gets you relegated. If you overtake riders from behind, you are allowed to leave the box, otherwise, you can’t pass in it.”
Bos also suggested riders should not be allowed to pass on the outside, closest to the fencing, within those sprint lanes. “So you can no longer dive into small holes, like Sagan in the Tour,” Bos said. “But you also no longer get the situation where the front rider slams the door – with all the consequences that entails. Anyone who passes between the rider and the fence in the sprinters’ section will be demoted.”
Bos would also add a line down the middle of the road, which would provide a guide for sprinters so the can stay on-line more easily. As in keirin racing, crossing any two lines would result in disqualification.
“Sometimes it’s not that easy [to stay on your line], you also look around and behind you,” Bos said. “With such a line you have a guide. You can also enter a line from the keirin: cross two lines and you can go home immediately. Crossing half the road from the sprinter’s section: disqualification.”
Bos addressed the barrier issues as well. Under his list of six suggestions, he would require either double fences or taller, two-meter high fences, to prevent fans from reaching into the sprint lanes. The fences would be diagonal, as they are at many major events now, without protruding legs.
Bos also would require that organizers select a straight section of road for the last 300 meters of any race.