Riders still furious with race safety, a year on from changes: 'These things wouldn't be acceptable in motorcar racing'

The CPA, the riders' official body, has come in for heavy criticism as well

Volta a Catalunya
(Image credit: Getty)

"It's almost a year since the UCI introduced a number of safety rules: do you feel safer in the peloton?"

"Ha," Rohan Dennis laughs, incredulously. "Not really, no."

It's a similar response from George Bennett. "No, not at all."

And, for good measure, here's Larry Warbasse's reply. "I don't really think they made a big difference, did they."

If the changes did one thing, it unified the peloton's response.

As a reminder, last spring, cycling's governing body made various changes that its president David Lappartient described as "unprecedented rider safety measures".

Among a few things was a ban on the so-called aero-tuck, a restriction on riders throwing bottles to spectators (a law later amended amid furore), designated places to collect food and drink waste (a move that the peloton claimed made things more dangerous), and measures to monitor drivers in the race convoy. There was also an update to how finishing barriers should be constructed.

British race organiser Mick Bennett told Cycling Weekly in the winter that the UCI "are guilty of allowing it [accidents] to happen", and on stage two of the Volta a Catalunya, three riders were caught riding on the wrong side of a motorway into oncoming traffic.

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Speaking at the start of that stage, both Warbasse and Dennis said that the opening stage of the WorldTour race had incidences that could have caused crashes.

"It's the normal stuff," Dennis said. "So, stage one, there was a split in the peloton and there was 25 guys off the front, and all the commissaire cars and motorbikes were in front of us into a corner, and we had to slow down to their speed which was slower than what we could do. This wouldn’t be acceptable in motorcar racing - why are there vehicles in the way?

"There are plenty of things: grey poles on the road, cones on the road. There are a lot of things that need to be cleaned up - obviously not everything can be perfect, we’re not on closed indoor tracks, so we have to face the elements in some ways, but there are definitely plenty of things that could be moved out of our way to reduce the risk of crashes."

Warbasse concurred, adding that "sometimes we’re still in races and there’s cars coming on the road; even Monday there was a car in the middle of the road at one point - it happens in nearly every single race.

"You can imagine when you have a 200km stage, it’s hard to close every road, but there’s always these little things, like road furniture not pointed out. I think we still have a lot of progression to be made there before we focus on little details of how we ride a bike."

Cycling Weekly approached the race organisers of the Volta a Catalunya, but they decided not to comment.

Bennett made his debut for UAE-Team Emirates at February's UAE Tour, and he remembered the finale of stage six as being particularly hazardous. "They [the UCI] completely negated all of the things that actually made a difference.

"We weren’t crashing because guys were riding on the top tube, we were crashing because of the courses, like in the UAE on the last stage were the breakaway survived, and we went from six lanes into one at 60kmh. What really causes these crashes, we haven’t quite addressed them yet."

What can be changed?

The CPA, the supposed natural voice of the riders since its formation in 1999, has come under sustained attack from riders in recent years for failing to defend its interest, with Michael Mørkøv brandishing it a "worthless organisation".

>>> Who speaks for the riders?

In late 2020, The Riders Union was formed and immediately pulled together hundreds of professionals into one body, but still, conditions haven't improved markedly.

Dennis, who confirmed that he is no longer a member of the CPA but is of The Riders Union, said that "there's even a stone wall with the CPA - our union doesn't actually work for us. I feel like it's them and the UCI against us.

"There are a lot of regulations supposedly that the UCI has to approve certain courses, but I don’t believe they actually do that, where they actually look at the course themselves. Most of the time the organisers do a good job, but as a whole it’s not up to scratch."

Bennett confessed that while cycling is an "inherently dangerous sport and we have to accept that the UCI can't make this a crash-free sport", there are some changes that could be made to reduce the probability of incidents.

"If we really want to say that not crashing is our priority, if there was one golden rule that I’d introduce, I’d say 5km to go on a sprint stage, the GC is settled," the New Zealander said. "There’s then no splits in the group, and that would change things, but it's not as simple as saying that as there's some guys like Alaphilippe who win GCs because of what they can do in these finales.

"But there are other things that are conducive to us crashing, and often that is crazy finales were everybody has to be at the front.

"Scrutiny of the parcours has to be the main thing that has to change. Look close up: ‘Ok, what’s going to happen when we come in here at 60kmh, with a group of 150 guys all trying to be at the front’."

Having had the comments put to them, a CPA representative told Cycling Weekly: "We are always working in [the rider's] interest but with regard to safety not everything depends on the CPA.

"Teams have more power to intervene than the CPA. It is the teams that have the responsibility to protect their employees and the power not to let them take the start in case of problems."

They also added: "There are regulations and the UCI should intervene when organisers don't respect them, our delegate, as well as all participants in races, report any problems to us but our intervention cannot be instantaneous."

Referring to recent communications from the CPA, the representative said: "Recently we have asked for updates from the safety commission on its work and requested a review of the regulations to include a safety distance between the vehicles and the riders."

Cycling Weekly also contacted the UCI for comment, but we did not receive one - we will update this article if a comment is provided. 

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