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There is no silver bullet.

March 28, 2016

hommage-a-antoine-demoitie-sur-les-reseaux-sociaux_1845081_667x333

When things seem to have no answer, it is often the words of poetry that resonate for me, whether they bring answers, or just a companion to the emotions.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Excerpt from In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

Though the excerpt is from a World War I poem, it feels relevant given the location of the terrible incident that took the life of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié on Sunday, during the Gent-Wevelgem race. The poem also feels relevant given the number of incidents in recent years that feel like the march of war, as casualties increase.

For those who follow racing closely, Antoine Demoitié’s death feels utterly unavoidable in its inexplicable inevitability, yet 100% unnecessary and preventable. Over the years, the size of the peloton has grown, and with it, the size of the caravan has grown unabated. The desire to see the faces of each rider, or each cobble, every attack, every minute detail of the race has seen the caravan explode in size. Race officials, race organizers, medics, neutral support, team cars, various press motos for TV, photo, video … it’s a huge moving mass of varying needs and objectives, swirling in an unchoreographed dance. As my good friend Chris Zigmont of SRAM put it; it’s a “circus with no training for the clowns.”

Zig quote

Zig points out many truths; professional cycling has long had a very symbiotic relationship wth cars and motorcycles. They’ve been a semi-permanent feature of the peloton for over 100 years. In recent years, with the growth of the internet and the increase in appetite for compelling stories/ images, the size of the race caravan has become bloated. As Neal Rogers pointed out in his excellent commentary, we all knew this was coming, and now we have to deal with the sickening after effects as we scramble to prevent Demoitié’s death from being in vain.

The time for the UCI to act was probably five years ago, if not longer ago, as the caravan and peloton began to grow further. Had changes taken place then, there would have been time to adapt and put steps in place to prevent this tragic death. The moto driver is known as an experienced driver, active in races for many years. It is impossible to put the blame directly on him- though I am sure he is likely doing that to himself. As Zig points out in another astute comment, there is no training for this, nor are there large quantities of trained professionals who can train the next crop of professionals. Like many parts of this sport, even at the highest levels, we often rely on the passion of enthusiasts to handle very important duties.

Zig comment 2

NOW is the time for the UCI to admit there is a problem, and that they are going to enact real changes. Change will take time, and perhaps we all need to be willing to have less photo or video from races, so that the UCI and race organizers can thin the herd until such time properly accredited personnel can ensure rider safety. Rider safety, above all else, should be the main priority. We all love seeing the race from multiple angles, but our desire for great photos does not override the safety of the riders. Period.

Neal beats himself a little for not writing about this issue before Antoine’s death. And he shouldn’t have to. None of us should have to. Demoitié’s family should not be mourning the loss of a son and a husband. Accidents happen, and some are truly unavoidable, but this one was ultimately preventable.

All of us who enjoy the sport of cycling need to let those in power, like USA Cycling in the US and UCI globally, know that we demand greater rider safety. And the UCI needs to be a leader here; Brian Cookson has made great strides in his time as leader of the UCI, but this is an issue that will now define his tenure. I think we can all agree that doping in cycling is being countered better than ever. Time to give equal attention to making the riders safe as they do their jobs, while providing us with thrilling, dramatic entertainment.

There is no silver bullet. No easy, singular answer, and nothing can be done overnight. But the process of change is LONG overdue and now there truly is blood on the hands of the UCI. Antoine Demoitié deserves to be the catalyst for real change, at the bare minimum. Nobody should die racing their bicycle, at any level of the sport, and certainly not due to injuries sustained from a vehicle in an overcrowded race caravan.

Now is the time. Last year was the time.

Tim

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