Road cycling, as a sport, can be thrilling to watch and to participate in. The endeavour of the climb, triumph at the top and that moment of relaxation as you coolly descend a hill is unmatched, especially when you do it faster than the guy behind you! With all reward comes risk, of course. You’re on a road. The council hasn’t checked the tarmac properly before the race. There are pot-holes, there’s black ice and, before you know it, you’ve been sent flying, head-first, through the air and down onto the ground for a nice long skid. It’s fine. Your shoulder didn’t need skin on it anyway.
In a sport that involves high speed on a tiny frame, on road made for much larger vehicles, crashes may always be an inevitable part. It might just be me but, recently, I’ve been noticing far more than usual, as races have been allowed to carry on once more. A week or so ago, in the Tour of Poland, at the end of a downhill sprint (where riders reach speeds of 80kph), gates that point inward to the road proved hazardous for several riders, not to mention the spectators that stood behind them. Several crashes occurred. Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen crashed at the end of the Tour and has only recently come out of the medically induced coma that he was placed in. There was no safety buffet of any kind, only bare ground. This week, several riders fell during the Dauphine Liberé. Likewise, during the Tour of Lombardy, coming down from a mountaintop at a gradient of 15%, the road was littered with splits and countless pot-holes. Several riders crashed and were injured. Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel tumbled over a barrier and into a ravine, suffering multiple injuries. German cyclist Maximilian Schachmann was even hit by a car!
Former World Champion and time-trial specialist Tom Dumoulin, who has just returned from a year out after an injury caused by a fall, called the state of these races “a disgrace.” British legend Chris Froome has also only just returned from a long absence due to an injury sustained in the same way. The numbers just keep stacking up. Cycling’s not a combat sport, or even a contact sport. People shouldn’t really be getting hurt, should they? There’s always a risk when you get into the saddle – you’re travelling at high speeds with minimal protection. There are sharp corners and bends and rough terrain, on a public road, is inevitable. With too much of a focus on safety, you run the risk of eradicating the elements of the sport that make it exciting and, further down the line, competitive. The point stands, however, and it is clear that more must be done to ensure the well-being of the riders on these long types of races. I mentioned the dangers of the erasure of competition earlier, but nobody’s able to compete well with their leg in a cast, I promise you that. Cyclist unions have, so far, been ineffective in lobbying for greater safety, but it is clear that more is required. Some solutions presented so far have been common sense (not always so common these days) and safety nets in dangerous areas of the courses. More frequent signage, fencing and proper ground paint to make things clearer for the rider have also been proposed. It is up to the sporting bodies that run these races to take responsibility. As outcry grows, they will have no choice but to listen.