Thursday 22 March 2018

Cycling authorities urged to act after tragedy

Antoine Demoitie. Photo: Getty
Antoine Demoitie. Photo: Getty

Tom Cary

Cycling's world governing body, the UCI, was under increasing pressure last night to revise its rules on in-race motorbikes after a Belgian rider was killed following a crash at Gent-Wevelgem over the weekend.

The president of the Professional Cyclists Association, Gianni Bugno, demanded an immediate investigation into the incident, adding that the CPA as a body felt "so much frustration" with the current state of affairs.

Plenty of riders articulated that frustration yesterday, with multiple Grand Tour champion Alberto Contador saying there needed to be better "control of in-race motorbikes NOW" and his Tinkoff team-mate Michael Rogers tweeting: "Must tragic circumstances be the marker for change? Please @UCI-cycling @cpacycling your riders need you now".

Antoine Demoitie, who rode for Belgian team Wanty-Groupe Gobert, was hit by the motorbike after crashing around 90 miles into the Belgian semi-classic, during a brief excursion into northern France. Although he was rushed to hospital in Lille, local police confirmed late on Sunday night that he had died.

A spokesman for the team, Jose Been, stressed that no blame was being apportioned to the rider of the motorbike, who was trying to avoid Demoitie when the collision took place.

"This is a tragic accident," Been said. "The driver has been at least 20 years in Belgian races. He is very affected by what happened, just as we all are."

But given this was merely the latest in a string of incidents involving professional cyclists and in-race motorbikes, a re-examination of safety in races was inevitable.

Lotto-Soudal's Stig Broeckx was struck by a motorbike at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this year and abandoned the race with a broken collarbone and rib, while BMC's Danilo Wyss was hit at a different race the same weekend.

Last year, Tinkoff riders Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho were both struck by motorbikes at the Vuelta a Espana, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at the Clasica San Sebastian and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) at the Tour de France. Shimano neutral service cars took out both Jesse Sergent (Trek) and Sebastien Chavanel (FDJ) at last year's Tour of Flanders.

Dan Martin, the Irish rider with Etixx-QuickStep, suggested that the motorbikes were not the problem but rather how they operated during a race.

"It's their conduct and the direction that needs governance," he tweeted.

"Passing the peloton on downhills and during crucial moments, when speed is high and fight for position frantic is just not safe."

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