After a slew of horrific crashes on the road last year, pressure mounted and mounted on the UCI to make changes to the safety measures and regulations at these landmark cycling events. Calls for standardisation of barriers and road markings were abundant, among many other changes that were begged for. Dutch rider Fabio Jakobsen was left comatose after being forced off-road into a set of barriers at the Tour de Pologne. Belgian Remcoe Evenepoel was left with a fractured pelvis and a lung contusion after hitting a bridge wall and falling down a ravine on the Tour de Lombardy. Welshman Geraint Thomas also fractured his pelvis after a discarded water bottle became lodged in his bike and sent him flying during the Giro d’Italia. This is to name but a few of the dangerous incidents occurring last year on the World Tour.
“What changes have been made?” you might ask. A variety of alterations to road and barrier standards, as well as standardisation, have come into effect, as well as new restrictions on the actions of the riders themselves. For example, it will no longer be permissible to throw used water bottles onto the road or into the peloton – a change stemming, no doubt, from the fallout of Thomas’ crash and the fury billowing from the INEOS Grenadiers camp. Most notably and, I think, strangely also is a particular change made to the ‘Dangerous Conduct of Riders’ section of the rulebook, which, henceforth, will outlaw use of the “super-tuck” position on descents.
The super-tuck is employed, despite claims against its efficacy, to gain an aerodynamic advantage on descents down hills. One picks their feet up and positions them high on the frame of the bike, while hunching their shoulders and chin over the handlebars. Chris Froome famously used the technique to win Stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France and it has caught on across the peloton ever since.
The changes have been met, mostly, with applause. Perfectly avoidable freak incidents, such as when a low-flying helicopter blew a roadside barrier into Luca Wackermann and Etienne van Empel, leaving Wackermann hospitalised, mounted pressure on the world cycling body to make changes and they have responded quickly before the start of the new season. I do, however, take issue with the banning of the super-tuck. Opposed to being a peripheral change, put in place by the race organisers, the banning of the super-tuck effects a riders’ ability to make their own decisions while racing. It squashes a competitive element and impedes the individual riders’ ability to make a particular tactical decision on the road. People talk, to no end, in football about the “outlawing the tackle.” This seems like it could head down the same road if the safety/manageable risk balance is thrown off. It is something to bear in mind. For now, however, these changes seem to be in good standing with the current state of racing safety. The last thing anyone wants is to see riders crashing out and damaging themselves, ending seasons and careers, because of a lack of oversight. Hopefully these changes are significant in ensuring rider safety going forward.