The death yesterday of Belgian professional cyclist Antoine Demoitié has sparked renewed calls on the UCI for restrictions to be placed on the number of motorbikes accompanying major professional bike races.
The Wanty-Gobert rider died in hospital yesterday evening several hours after he had been struck by a moto whose driver was unable to avoid hitting the 25-year-old after he and several other riders crashed during Gent-Wevelgem.
Concerns about the safety of the peloton had already been aired before yesterday’s tragedy following a number of high profile crashes in which riders have been injured after being struck by cars or motorbikes belonging to race convoys.
While motos carrying press photographers or TV camera operators are the focus of many fans’ comments, they are outnumbered in major races by those involved in the organisation of the race, including police, neutral service, safety marshals and commissaries – a moto carrying one of the latter is believed to have been involved yesterday.
The full circumstances surrounding the fatal crash are still unclear, though the fact that the rider was already on the ground distinguishes it from other incidents such as the one at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last month when Lotto-Soudal’s Stig Broeckx was struck from behind by a moto.
The press officer at Demoitié’s team, Jose Been, says that it is not blaming the driver of the moto involved yesterday, describing what happened as “a tragic accident.” The Belgian team is due to hold a press conference in De Panne this afternoon.
“In this case it’s a tragic accident,” she said. “This moto driver has at least 20 years’ experience of racing in Belgium. He’s very upset, just like we are.”
"This isn’t a case of a high speed collision as happened with Stig Broeckx at Kuurne or Peter Sagan last year in the Vuelta,” she added. “This is a fatal accident."
However, on Twitter this morning a number of pro cyclists have called for the UCI to take urgent action on the issue, with Tinkoff’s Mick Rogers sharing this TV screenshot taken during yesterday’s race.
— Michael Rogers (@mickrogers) March 28, 2016
Etixx-Quick Step’s Dan Martin pointed out that “Motos are a necessity in our sport for both security and media presence. It's their conduct and the direction that needs governance,” but in response to that, Rogers suggested that the solution may lie in limiting their speed.
The Australian former world time trial champion suggestion was: “Cap moto speed to 15-20km/h faster than peloton when passing = increased reaction time when unexpected happens.”
In a brief statement, the UCI said it was “extremely saddened” to hear of Demoitié’s death.
The governing body’s president, Brian Cookson, said: "Antoine will be truly missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and team."
The statement concluded by saying that the UCI would “co-operate with all relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident.”
On the same weekend Broeckx was injured, BMC Racing rider Daniel Wyss was knocked off his bike by a moto while taking part in the La Drôme Classic in France.
That prompted his team’s manager Jim Ochowicz to address an open letter to the UCI – the second he had written in six months on the issue of rider safety. He said:
On September 1, 2015, less than one year ago, I wrote a similar letter after an alarming number of crashes involving vehicles had taken place in the peloton since the beginning of the 2015 season. Despite my reaching out for help at that time, the problem became even more prominent as the season went on and we watched in disbelief. Now here I am again asking the powers to be to take notice.
This weekend we saw two serious incidents take place that involved vehicles on the race course taking down riders on live television at La Drôme Classic in France and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in Belgium. Incredible! The riders deserve far more respect than what they are receiving from those who are responsible for protecting their safety. 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. Disgraceful!
This has got to stop before the headlines in the future are of a more disturbing nature than what we have seen in 2015 and now again in 2016.
To the UCI, I am turning to you for answers and solutions.
Not all team bosses believe that reducing the number of motos or other vehicles following a race is viable, however.
Just a fortnight ago, Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of Slipstream Sports which owns the Cannondale Pro Cycling team, wrote about the issue in an op-ed piece for Business Insider.
He said: “One of the largest and most recent controversies in pro cycling is the cyclists being run over by television motorcycles, support vehicles, and referee-carrying vehicles.
“At first glance, it seems absurd that cyclists would be getting put in danger by motor vehicles that are in the middle of a pack of cyclists. However, when we examine why those vehicles are there to begin with, it becomes less clear.
“Without television providing close-up and intimate filming, cycling loses its audience. Without mobile referees in vehicles watching the conduct of the riders, cycling loses adherence to regulations and fairness. Without support vehicles, riders have no coaching, no possibility to fix flat tires, and no mobile water and fuel station.
“Without the police on motorcycles constantly enveloping the peloton, the riders receive no protection from traffic. The hundreds of dangerous motor vehicles surrounding a bike race all serve a purpose. Unfortunately, we all now know that motor vehicles crammed into extremely close quarters with riders will eventually produce an accident. No matter who is driving.”
His remarks take on a new resonance following yesterday’s events, although when he penned his piece Vaughters – a former chairman of the professional teams association, the AIGCP – said he didn’t believe cutting the number of vehicles following a race was a viable option.
Reducing the number of TV motos and media vehicles would cause a race to “fade to obscurity,” he said, while removing commissaires’ vehicles would result in “a Mad Max version of cycling,” and taking away team cars would leave riders without support.
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.