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UCI suspends disc brake use, but have they really caused damage?

The UCI has suspended the trial of disc brakes in the pro peloton but is there any solid evidence to back up the claims that disc rotors have been responsible for any injuries?

Rather than simply accepting the claims that have been bandied about, let's examine them.

Movistar’s Fran Ventoso is at the centre of the controversy following an injury in Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

In a statement he said: 

“Let me take you to 130km into the race: into a cobbled section, a pile-up splits the field, with riders falling everywhere. I’ve got to brake but I can’t avoid crashing against the rider in front of me, who was also trying not to hit the ones ahead. I didn’t actually fall down: it was only my leg touching the back of his bike. 

“I keep riding. But shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane or surface that covers my tibia. 

“I get off my bike, throw myself against the right-hand side of the road over the grass, cover my face with my hands in shock and disbelief, start to feel sick… I could only wait for my team car and the ambulance, while a lot of things come through my mind.

“15km after my incident, Nikolas Maes, a rider from Etixx-Quick Step, comes into the very same ambulance I’m sitting in. There’s a deep wound in his knee, produced by another disc.” 

Let’s deal with the Nikolas Maes incident first because we can debunk that one straight away. Here are photographs of the crash that led to Maes abandoning the race. 

Paris Roubaix Maes - 1.jpg

Paris Roubaix Maes - 1.jpg

You can see Maes in the white helmet in the centre of the shot still upright as Orica GreenEdge’s Mitchell Docker hits the ground. The black bike with green bar tape falling over is Docker’s. It's a Scott without disc brakes.

Two teams racing Paris-Roubaix were using disc brakes: Lampre-Merida and Direct Energie. 

We have many shots of this incident. As well as Orica GreenEdge and Etixx-Quick-Step, our pictures show riders from IAM Cycling, Lotto Jumbo, AG2R, Astana, FDJ, Trek Segafredo, Katusha, Wanty - Groupe Gobert, Bora-Argon, Fortuneo - Vital Concept, Cannondale, Tinkoff, Lotto-Soudal, Delko Marseille Provence KTM, Cofidis, Dimension Data, and Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise – the vast majority of teams in the race – but none from Lampre-Merida or Direct Energie.

Paris Roubaix Maes - 2.jpg

Paris Roubaix Maes - 2.jpg

Here’s Maes landing on his right knee (above) behind a Lotto Jumbo rider.

Paris Roubaix Maes - 1.jpg

Paris Roubaix Maes - 1.jpg

And here’s Maes’ injury to his right knee (above, far left of the picture).

 

 

And here’s a video shot by Guy Wolstencroft showing the incident from another angle.

See any Lampre-Merida or Direct Energie riders close to Maes? 

Unless Maes was involved in an incident prior to this one, his injury wasn’t caused by a disc brake rotor.

What about the claim that Fran Ventoso’s own injury was caused by a disc rotor?

Fran Ventoso.jpg

Fran Ventoso.jpg

Ventoso’s injury is on the front of his left leg, on the outer side. It must be difficult to get a disc brake injury here if your own bike isn’t fitted with discs and you haven’t come off – not impossible, but difficult. If the injury was to his right leg you’d have an easier time understanding it, disc brakes being fitted to the non-driveside of bikes. Still, strange things happen in crashes.

Ventoso didn’t see a disc brake cause his injury or realise it in the immediate aftermath of the crash, he only came to the conclusion that a rotor was responsible once he was underway again.

Maybe he’s right – he could well be – but the evidence seems far from conclusive. Ventoso obviously believes he was injured by a disc rotor, but we don't have to accept that without question. The rider has been hurt and our sympathies go out to him, but that doesn't mean he is necessarily right.

People have been voicing safety concerns about disc brakes in the pro peloton ever since their introduction was first suggested. These have usually been based on the ability of a rotor to cut and the different stopping abilities of riders running disc brakes while others are using rim brakes.

It’s interesting that the UCI decided to go ahead with the disc brake trial despite those concerns and has apparently decided to suspend that trial based on evidence that’s some way short of categorical.

What next? The UCI has now officially suspended the disc brake trial but the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), representing the bike industry (or at least a large part of it) insists that discs are still very much part of the future of road racing.

Read what the UCI and the WFSGI have said here. 16 March 2016  - 3.jpg

When Campagnolo revealed its new disc brakes last month we reported the brand’s marketing and communication director Lorenzo Taxis as saying, “Professional teams are not pushing for disc brakes, so let’s see what happens in the race season.” 

Sean Kelly told us the same thing at a Vitus product launch earlier in the year, and we’ve heard similar from numerous current professionals. 

In the aftermath of Paris-Roubaix several pro riders have reiterated that they're opposed to the use of disc brakes in the peloton.

 

 

Much of the bike industry, on the other hand, is keen for disc brakes to be used by the pros. The big races serve as a shop window for their products, after all. It'll be interesting to see how things develop.

What do you think? Over to you.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.