The president of Welsh Cycling has called on cyclists to be more aggressive when riding on the road. Bill Owen’s comments followed the hit-and-run incident that left Paralympic champion Simon Richardson in a critical condition in hospital, which the Welsh cyclist’s sponsor believes has ended any hope of his defending his two titles at London 2012.
Richardson suffered multiple injuries after being hit by a van while out training on the A48 near Bridgend on Wednesday morning. The van did not stop, although South Wales Police later arrested an unnamed 59-year-old man in connection with the incident. He has been bailed to return to Bridgend police station on October 13.
"We are up against it with car drivers," said Mr Owen, quoted on the BBC News website. "The more cyclists that are out there, the more accidents are increasing. These accidents are getting noticed more.
"It's about making car drivers more aware of the cyclists out there,” he continued. “The majority of motorists are tolerant but there are some yobs out there who make it tough for cyclists.
"Yes, there are awareness campaigns going on but it needs more than cycling organisations to do this.
"At the end of the day the authorities and Welsh Government need to act.
"There's even one side to it that cyclists aren't aggressive enough. It's safer to ride away from the kerb where there are cars parked and gutters," Mr Owen insisted.
Enda Smyth, a friend of Richardson and cyclist on the Irish Paralympic team, agreed that it was becoming more dangerous to ride on the road, saying: "I think it's shocking the way it's gone with the roads. I think they are more dangerous now.
"Motorists are aware of what's going on and I think it's just the acceptance on the road.
"The altercations are getting closer and closer. I hear about it each week about people being run off the road and a lot of close calls," he added.
The BBC says that British Cycling has handled 40 claims on behalf of its members following accidents during the past two years, and that the national governing body is concerned about the number of incidents.
"It's a huge issue,” confirmed Martin Gibbs, British Cycling’s policy affairs and legal director.
"We are currently going through a process of surveying our members to see what they think is the most important issue.
"The general feeling is varied but that it's about awareness and mutual respect between cyclists and motorists.
"There's a lot that can be done from the UK government perspective.
"If we and the government are encouraging more people to get on their bikes, it's our responsibility to make sure the roads are as safe as they can be."
Among measures called for by members who have already responded to British Cycling’s survey are including cyclist awareness as part of the driving test, and addressing what are seen as lenient penalties handed down to drivers convicted of causing accidents involving bike riders. Road layouts are also seen as an issue.
The Welsh Government told the BBC that it made funding available to local councils throughout the principality to make the roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
"It will continue to work with local authorities and organisations such as Sustrans to reduce casualties amongst these groups," a spokesperson for the Welsh Government stated.
Meanwhile, Richardson himself was described as being in “good spirits” despite his injuries, which include his back being broken in two places and a broken breastbone. He also has lacerations to his legs and only one of his lungs is functioning.
Richardson’s condition at the University of Wales Hospital, Cardiff, remains critical but stable, and the cyclist has been able to speak with his wife, Amanda, who said in a statement quoted on the website Wales Online: “I’d like to thank everyone in the cycling community and other well-wishers for their messages of support for Simon.
“He will be heartened to know that people are extending their positive thoughts and encouragement to him during this difficult time,” she continued.
The website also quoted John Morgan, executive director of Disability Sport Wales, who commented: “He wants to know what is going on. He is aware of what has happened, he is aware of his surroundings, and he is talking and trying to be as upbeat as possible.”
Mr Morgan added: “He has shown great courage and determination in the past and he will meet this latest challenge head-on. Amanda is incredibly resilient and she has been at his bedside throughout.”
It was the injuries received in another horrific crash when he was hit by a car that eventually led to Richardson, who comes from Porthcawl, pursuing a career as a paracyclist.
In 2001, the 44-year-old was hit by a car while riding on a club run, the accident leaving him with no feeling on his left-hand side.
He began riding again in 2005 on an adapted bike on the advice of doctors to help with his rehabilitation, and in Beijing three years later he won gold in the LC 3–4 class kilo with a world record time of 1 minute 14.936 seconds. He subsequently added a second gold medal in the LC3–4 3km individual pursuit, and also took silver in the LC3 class road time trial.
However, his sponsor and friend Phil Jones confirmed that this week’s accident has almost certainly ended Richardson’s hopes of defending those titles in London next year.
“Although Simon wasn’t currently within the GB Paralympics performance programme, the times and training that he had been putting in up until now were certainly making him a very top contender to be considered for the London 2012 Paralympics,” he said.
Gareth Sheppard, performance manager for British Cycling’s paracycling team, added:
“All our thoughts are with Simon and his family.
“It’s really sad that someone’s life could be threatened by someone not taking care and attention on the road.”
Sheppard joined others in calling for drivers to be encouraged to become more aware of cyclists.
“You’ve got little protection as a cyclist because you are so exposed. We very much want to make sure racing and cycling in general on the road is safe and there does need to be a Government-backed campaign on the issue.”
The South Wales Police roads policing unit continues to seek witnesses to the crash, or who saw a white van heading towards Cowbridge after the incident at 9.40am on Wednesday morning, and they can be contacted on 029 2063 3438 or through Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.