UCI announces a series of new protocols for rider safety

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It seems the UCI has been hard at work since the 2020 road season wrapped up. In two separate press releases on Thursday, the UCI announced changes to the UCI Medical Rules for all cycling disciplines and a series of safety measures for road racing specifically.

Concussion Protocol

The UCI has announced all cycling disciplines will integrate new concussion protocols in 2021. These new protocols were specifically created for fast-paced sport and sports-related concussions, or SRC, to be formally added to the UCI Medical Rules at the Cyclocross World Championships in January 2021.

New protocols include expanded protocols for on-course and post-race assessments, as well as guidelines for returning to racing after a concussion.

The new framework takes into account one of the major issues faced when determining whether or not a cyclist has a concussion: The time it takes to account for signs of a SRC can make or break the race for that athlete, meaning riders are not likely to stop and assess their mental state before jumping back into the race. A good example of this is Romain Bardet’s crash in the 2020 Tour de France. Viewers watching the crash at home noticed symptoms of a SRC from Bardet, but without a doctor present immediately after the incident, Bardet was put back on his bike and allowed to race the final 90 km of stage 13.

If Bardet had waited for the race doctor to assess the situation that doctor might not have allowed the French rider to continue, as cycling stands now, it would be hard to ask a rider to stand on the roadside and wait for a doctor to clear them to continue the race. After the race, his team announced Bardet had been diagnosed with a hemorrhage in his brain and he did not start stage 14. 

These new protocols suggest non-health professionals who are close to the events receive training to recognize the symptoms of an SRC on course. The general idea being that the first person on the scene would be able to recognize if the athlete in question is presenting signs of a SRC before the race doctor is present. Non-healthcare professionals include directors, mechanics, coaches, and the riders themselves. Immediate signs of a SRC include dizziness, trouble with balance, changes in vision, and slurred speech. 

If signs of a SRC are present the rider must then wait for the race doctor to confirm the diagnosis. After the race is over the rider must be assessed again, using the SCAT5 neurocognitive test. The SCAT5 tool is the 5th edition of a sports concussion assessment test designed for licensed healthcare professionals and takes a minimum of 10 minutes to perform. 

Crucially, the new protocols have also outlined the post-SRC actions. All sports-related concussions are to be reported to the UCI Medical Director. As for the riders return to competition, the UCI has suggested 24 to 48 hours of rest and a week off from competition. For junior riders, they have extended the downtime to two weeks. 

Concussions have become more of a concern in the last handful of years as more research detailing the long-term effects is released. Cycling in particular has struggled to implement concussion protocols due to the fast-paced nature of the sport. Riders and fans alike have been calling on the UCI and the men’s riders union, the CPA, to implement on the ground concussion protocols for the safety of the riders.

“The issue of sports-related concussion was one of my priorities, along with the misuse of tramadol, when I arrived at the UCI in 2018,” the UCI Medical Director Professor Xavier Bigard said in a statement by the UCI. “Cycling now has guidelines that set out the various phases involved in dealing with SRC (initial assessment, diagnosis, recovery, and return to competition). This protocol applies to all disciplines while taking their specific characteristics into consideration. It will make it easier to trace individual SRC cases and better understand their place in cycling traumatology.”

Road-specific Protocols

Specifically on the road side of cycling, the UCI has laid out a few changes to safety measures at races. The Professional Cycling Council approved multiple different steps that should help make riders safer during events, both on the side of the race organizers and on the side of the UCI. The new safety protocols will only be implemented at the World Tour level for both men and women in 2021.

Internally the UCI will hire a Safety Manager within their sports department. This new role will be in charge of supervising events on the UCI Road Calendar. New regulations will also fall on the race organizers, as each event must have its own Event Safety Manager, certified by the UCI.

A few of the regulations turn to external services, notably for help analyzing route safety several weeks before an event. Another external action will be analysis of accidents within the last five years to help determine what can be done with future incidents before the fact.

Other important improvements revolve around courses and rider communication at races. One is a specific protocol when it comes to race neutralization. Another would be better security at finish lines and barricaded areas.

It looks like a stance is being taken against descending on the top tube, as one of the details of the UCI’s protocols calls out “taking up dangerous positions on the bike (especially in descents).”

There are multiple additions that have been influenced by incidents in 2020. One of them being the modernization of barriers on the side of the road, another regarding equipment used by teams. The first recalls the horrendous crash of Fabio Jakobsen at the Tour of Poland where the barriers lining the finish line increased the danger of the incident, while the second recalls the crash of Geraint Thomas at the Giro d’Italia, where he was taken down by a rouge water bottle.

Finally, there are a few new rules for the drivers around the race. There will be more briefings for drivers, motorcycles, and helicopters before the start of events as well as a points system tracked via lockbook for all drivers in the convoy.

A full list of the UCI’s new safety measures can be found here.

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