This last few days has been sad for the sport of bicycle racing. Three riders have died this past week while racing. Two riders in Europe, then another rider here in the US. This isn’t normal and it does give one some chance to think about our dedication and participation in the sport.
The death that seems to be getting the most attention is that of Antoine Demoitié. He was hit by a race motorcycle after crashing with 3 other riders during Gent-Wevelgem.
One other young rider, Daan Myngheer died after suffering a heart attack at the Critérium International. Then 29-year-old Randall Fox, an Oregon State Ph.D. student, died after crashing in Washington.
Man, how tragic for all involved.
All people that make their living racing bicycles have to have been affected by this. All riders that have deep love of the sport and spend most their waking hours breathing and living the sport, are in the same situation. It makes us all rethink the risks we’re willing to take to participate in a sport.
Marcel Kittle wrote a long post on Facebook that mainly addresses the safety issues and mainly the death of Antoine Demoitié. His post is here. This is probably a good time to address perceived problems that our sport has.
Marcel seems to be mainly concerned with outside sources. He goes on to name the situations and riders that have had accidents from race motorcycles and such. In his post, Marcel makes this statement – Cycling´s biggest problem was doping and still has to be fought. But the safety issues that are obvious, should get the same attention and priority as the fight for clean sport.
Marcel has good/great intentions here. He is expressing his concerns over the safety of all involved. But this line is too strong for my liking. Safety issues getting the same attention and priority as doping is a dramatic statement and if he truly means that, he is posting from an emotional stance and not an intellectual one.
Marcel states that bicycle racing has always been a dangerous proposition. I agree with this completely. But saying that a rider should be more concerned about crashes from outside sources, ie. road furniture, race caravan, etc,. is shifting the safety blame to another subject.
He says – There is a difference between riders crashing in the last hectic kilometres of a race, fighting for the right wheel before the sprint and riders crashing because of unsafe road furniture, reckless driving of motorbikes or cars, extreme weather conditions and unsafe race routes.
I disagree with this. Riders crashing and getting hurt are guys getting hurt. It really doesn’t matter when or how it occurs. I see no less tragedy in Antoine’s death and that of Randall. Both died racing their bikes.
Like I said, Marcel has super intentions here. And he is a sprinter. He expects, and seems to enjoy, taking risks at the end of a race. But the races have become more dangerous throughout the races, not just at the finishes. Crashes are happening from kilometer one all the way to the finish. And most of these crashes are because of the riders conduct, not the courses or the caravan. If Marcel thinks that the safety of the races need to be addressed then all safety problems need to be addressed, not just those for “outside sources”.
I don’t call race motorcycles or follow cars outside sources. When we enter these races, we are fully cognizant that these safety issues are present. The bigger the race, the more automobile and motorcycles that are going to be around. Professional races are funded by television. And television dictates, at this time, that there are going to be motorcycles on the course.
It wasn’t like the driver of the motorcycle that hit Antoine wasn’t experienced. It was reported that he had a 20 year history driving in races. It was just an accident. The bigger the sport, the more television, the more extra vehicles.
Accidents are accidents. Unless Marcel wants to be racing bicycles on the same track made specifically for cycling and have not other vehicles on the course, then this is always going to be there. Whenever there are a lot of competitors packed into a small group, traveling 25-60 mph, then accidents are going to happen.
I don’t like having so many vehicles on the courses when I race. I make it a point to never drop back into the caravan unless I have a mechanical and can’t avoid the situation. Riding back in the race caravan is dramatically more dangerous than riding in the peloton.
I agree this is a good time to address all safety concerns of professional racing. The sport has become more dangerous, in my opinion. And most of the added danger has been advanced by the riders and teams themselves not the “outside sources”. And when the professionals accept more danger, then the trickle down effect goes into play and all the all the other races become more dangerous.
I wish Marcel would have included something in his post about riders taking more responsibility for the safety of each other. The tactics that the professional teams have used, and have evolved, cause way more safety concerns that those of what he is addressing.
I wonder if Marcel would enter a night time criterium in the rain? I doubt it. Each and everyone of us has their level of risk they are willing to take. Cycling isn’t for the faint of heart. Each and everytime we clip in, whether it’s a race or just out training, we take a certain risk. That is the way of life in general.
Safety has been ignored for a long time. And this, is a good time to do that. If we’re going to be addressing rider safety, all rider safety, not just that of the professional riders, then we need to do it from the ground up.
Most of the danger in cycling isn’t new. Each and everyone of us needs to look out for the safety of each other. Riders looking out for the safety of other riders is way more important than anything the UCI can come up with by making new rules.