The Giro d’Italia is well underway, delivering all the endurance, heart and tactical intrigue that the sport is so well-famed for. It is also delivering the beautiful Italian countryside, albeit, with less-than-ideal weather. I have written before about safety in cycling. With the coronavirus making the first half off this year, essentially, a write-off for most, the European sporting calendar has had to shift, along with all the Grand Tours. Races that would, originally, have been set to take place in late spring or early summer have been moved to later in the year, hence why the Giro is happening now, instead of in May, as usual. With this change in timing has come a change in weather. Stage five is underway as I write this and, instead of bright sunshine and a cool breeze, it is wet, rainy and cold. The roads are slippery and the descents more dangerous than ever.
What one might not expect to encounter while making your way through the arduous race is a barrier flying into the middle of the road. For the uninitiated, barriers are meant to be by the side of the road, marking the route and keeping spectators out of harms way. They are not supposed to be smacking riders in the face. Dutch rider Etienne van Empel and Italian Luca Wackermann found different at the end of stage 4 when a low-flying helicopter caused a gust of wind that blew one of the “protective” barriers straight into the faces of the two riders. Van Empel got away largely unharmed, but Wackermann was not so fortunate. He bore the brunt of the impact on his face, being struck from his bike and having to be taken to hospital. He suffered a broken nose, lacerations to his face, a concussion, multiple bodily bruises and a suspected back fracture. He tweeted after the race, along with a picture of himself smiling in the hospital bed: “Hurt, bruised and taped, but this is a beautiful smile.” He was battered, but relatively unfazed by the ordeal, it seems. Probably because of the concussion – he has no memory of the event.
In an interview in the aftermath, the Tuscan Health administrator for the Giro d’Italia laid blame on the helicopter. It was flying too low, he said. He had been promised that the helicopters were to fly higher than usual but, in this case, they didn’t. Commentators on the race were more inclined to blame the barriers themselves. How could it be that they could be so violently moved by a gust of wind? It was remarked that, in other races, people had been seen removing the advertising banners from the barriers, as they were catching the wind. This had not been done here and the questions flowed – “How could this have been allowed to happen?” “Why wasn’t the barrier anchored properly?” Most heavily questioned was the lack of a governing body, under which all safety measures, including those for barriers ought to be sanctioned. Currently, each race is responsible for its own safety and they can acquire these safety measures from wherever they like. There is no oversight. Is it time for standardisation of barriers under one governing body? The more crashes and avoidable incidents like this that we see, the louder the voices in favour will become.