You’d think cyclists would be reasonably safe from traffic in a pro-race, seeing as the roads are closed. There’s enough to think about with the vagaries of the race itself, let alone bringing car dodging.
A pro race does involve motor vehicles though, and quite a lot of them, which makes it almost surprising you don’t get more collisions with riders such as those recently with BMC’s Danilo Wyss hitting a motorbike that had stopped on a bend and before that Stig Broeckx of Lotto Soudal who was taken out by a medic motorbike, of all things.
This has led to calls for the UCI to take control of race vehicles. BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz told Cycling News the environment for riders was “discraceful” and called for the UCI to reconsider the size of the peloton.
“The riders deserve far more respect than what they are receiving from those who are responsible for protecting their safety,” said Mr Ochowicz. “We all understand that there exists an element of danger in the sport of cycling from a number of places and conditions but no rider expects to be run down from behind by an over-enthusiastic pilot on a closed race course.”
Crowded roads come with the territory in a pro race and in a grand tour you can get as many as 250 vehicles on each stage. Just for starters you’ve got the race director and the VIP cars and various media vehicles which run ahead of the race, then the team cars which bring up the rear. In the middle is the peloton, comprising more than 100 riders - the race itself - and everyone wants to get a look at it.
That includes the viewing public, which is where the motorbikes come in. Photographers and cameramen sit on the back of them as they ferry up, down and around the peloton, trying to get involved in the action without interfering. On top of that there’s the neutral service motorbikes which hover around in case a rider suffers a mechanical and the team car is out of reach. Then the medics.
In between all these are the VIP and media cars, which often contain sponsors and people who either feel they are entitled to get a look at the race or who actually have a practical need to. These cars tend to set off slightly ahead of the race dropping back to roll alongside the break and back further still to snatch a glimpse of the peloton. This is fine on wide motorways where there is room for cars and bikes on the same stretch of road, not so good on narrow country lanes. It was one of these cars that took out Juan Antonio Fletcha in the 2011 Tour de France.
A lot of these cars and bikes are driven by former pro cyclists who understand the peculiarities of the peloton, how a cyclist could suddenly peel away from the bunch for no apparent reason. However there is at present no requirement for race drivers to possess advanced driving skills or have any experience of driving in the vicinity of dozens of vulnerable cyclists.
Speaking on the 2013 Tour of Britain, Roger Hammond, then of Madison Genesis and now Dimension Data said race vehicles including team cars needed more regulation.
“The UCI governs every other aspect of racing, but anyone can drive a team car,” he says. “That’s OK if you’re an ex-rider who knows how a peloton might behave, such as when it chevrons in windy conditions, but if you are a driver who doesn’t know these things you are in charge of two tons of steel amongst a bunch of unpredictable bike riders.”
To date the UCI has introduced no additional driving regulations.
2011 Tour de France: France TV car swerves to avoid a tree and causes crash with Johnny Hoogerland Juan Antonio Flecha
2014 US championships: Taylor Phinney collides with a motorcycle stopped on a descent, resulting in a compound fracture to his leg
2015 Vuelta a España: Peter Sagan and teammate Sergio Paulinho each taken down by motorcycles
2015 Tour of Flanders: Jesse Sergent crashed after being hit by a passing Shimano neutral support car
2015 Tour de France: Jakob Fuglsang taken out by a motorbike.