Mick Bennett, race organiser of the Women's Tour and the Tour of Britain, has backed riders calling for increased safety measures in the peloton, telling Cycling Weekly that the UCI "needs to wake up and smell the coffee".
Bennett raised his concerns with Cycling Weekly not long before The Cyclists' Alliance, a foundation that works with current and former pros to help improve conditions for the female peloton, published a safety report from 22 races from the 2021 season, claiming that a number had significant issues to address including road furniture and traffic on the road.
The Cyclists' Alliance report highly commends the Healthy Ageing Tour and Gent-Wevelgem races, but reveals that riders reported numerous alleged infringements at several races.
They include but are not limited to:
- at the Brugge-De Panne race, riders were said to have been left in traffic after a crash with 30km to go, a situation described as "extremely dangerous."
- complaints about a car on the road at Liége-Bastogne-Liège Femmes
- complaints about parked cars on the course at the Ceratizit Festival Elsy Jacobs, while one rider commented that "there were too many motorbikes that passed the peloton frequently... it made for dangerous situations."
- at the Ronde de Mouscron, the final kilometre was said to have been littered with road furniture, including one piece at 300m to go. One rider said that "barricades were balanced precariously on the edge of the sidewalk."
- the road surface was criticised at both the GP Oetingen and Danilith Nokere Koerse.
Bennett leads the SweetSpot group in the running of the two successful British events that riders frequently commend for their safe organisation, with both races last year receiving the highest possible marks from UCI commissaires.
The issue of rider safety has become a frequent topic of discussion in the past two seasons after a spate of avoidable accidents that have threatened the lives of riders, including Fabio Jakobsen's horrendous crash at the Tour of Poland in August 2020.
More recently, four-time world time trial champion Tony Martin admitted that his retirement was brought forward in part due to feeling unsafe at races, and Bennett told Cycling Weekly that when watching other races he can sympathise with the men's and women's peloton.
"I only keep my eye out when I spot something on the TV and I'll only be critical if I see something that doesn't need to happen, but how many times have I seen safety measures being ignored," he said.
As an example, Bennett alleged: "In ASO races we see the race director car, official cars, coming over the finish line, stopping on the line and letting people out with the doors wide open while riders are coming across the line.
He went onto claim that "we see people like ASO doing it all the time and continue to do so.
"In the Women's Tour or the Tour of Britain, if we saw a car stopping in the deviation lane and letting passengers out, they'd be taken off the race immediately.
"It's basic stuff that shouldn't happen and the UCI are guilty of allowing it to happen.
"The safety manager of the UCI needs to wake up and smell the coffee."
Bennett said he believes this "will continue to happen unfortunately until there is a tragic accident."
Asked to respond to Bennett's comments, both the UCI and ASO said they did not want to comment.
Bennett, a former professional himself, explained how both SweetSpot events have 74 motorbikes on the race route operating rolling road closures and preventing rogue cars from getting onto the course. In bigger races, such as the Tour de France, roads are closed for multiple hours.
He recalled how Bora-Hansgrohe rider Max Schachmann was hit by a car at the 2020 Il Lombardia that had made its way onto the route, adding that in the British races "we run a caterpillar action and one of the motorbikes would spot a car and get them to wait."
Bennett said that in the past he has offered his assistance to the UCI on the issue only to be rebuffed, and criticised the sport's governing body for allowing the mistakes to continue.
Bennett told Cycling Weekly that he had offered his "help and advice" based upon his UK experience, but that "they completely ignored me," he claimed; the UCI said it would not comment when asked for a response on this.
"The safety manager of the UCI needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Races need to be called to account if they fail on elements of safety," Bennett said.
"But we need proper sanctions because the safety of the riders is the most important element of any race, above TV and anything else. Our biggest expense at SweetSpot is by far and away rider safety."
Cycling Weekly approached the UCI for a response, with a spokesperson saying that "the UCI will not make any comment." ASO also told us: "We do not want to comment [on] what Mr. Bennett said."
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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