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Cycling: ban on earphones, reinforced protection and sanctions... ten ways to reduce the risks and the number of falls

What solutions? With the increase in falls as impressive as they are dangerous, like the one which involved Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) or even Primoz Roglic (Bora-Hansgrohe), this Thursday during the 4th stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, it appears (increasingly) crucial to find ways to reduce the risks of serious incidents during cycling races.

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Cycling: ban on earphones, reinforced protection and sanctions... ten ways to reduce the risks and the number of falls

What solutions? With the increase in falls as impressive as they are dangerous, like the one which involved Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) or even Primoz Roglic (Bora-Hansgrohe), this Thursday during the 4th stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, it appears (increasingly) crucial to find ways to reduce the risks of serious incidents during cycling races. Le Figaro takes stock of the avenues envisaged.

For many, the constant improvement of equipment is one of the main causes of some high-speed falls. Indeed, with ever more aerodynamic and lightweight bicycles, riders are (logically) faster and faster: “The bikes are 110% optimized with the tires, the frame, the wheels, the stem, they are performance machines. war which is going very very quickly, tells RMC Sport Julien Jurdie, the sports director of Décathlon AG2R La Mondiale. And when you put a super athlete well trained, the combination with the equipment makes it go very quickly. Speed ​​is really important.” The machines are certainly more maneuverable than in the past...but at the same time, because of their rigidity, they can be more difficult to control in certain situations (especially with increasingly narrow handlebars). As Marc Madiot, the manager of Groupama-FDJ, explains: “Carbon has no flexibility. The slightest roughness on the road, you take it in the handlebars. If you are focused and grip the handlebars tightly, it will work. If you are a little relaxed, it no longer works,” he said in an interview with Ouest-France. So, obviously, one of the avenues envisaged to reduce the number of serious incidents is to stop this frantic race towards “technology”. An idea (no doubt) difficult to implement.

In the same vein, many players in the world of cycling criticize the use of disc brakes - which allow you to brake later and harder - which they consider more dangerous than more than one way. On the one hand, they would be the cause of certain “blockages”. “Disc braking is a problem. On anticipatory braking, it's wonderful. But as soon as you are in emergency braking and the instinct to save causes you to be stuck, you immediately make a mistake because you maintain grip,” Pascal Chanteur explained to RMC Sport, the president of the national union of professional cyclists. On the other hand, the arrival of discs would have given more confidence to the runners who would, consequently, take more risks, in particular by riding closer and closer to each other: "Before, with the skates, under the rain, you were on the reservoir, you left a safety margin. Not anymore. Having confidence in your bike pushes you to make mistakes,” said Pello Bilbao, the Basque from Bahrain-Victorious, in comments reported by L’Équipe. Finally, the discs would (also) prove to be very dangerous during falls because they would cut “like razors”, to use the expression of Romain Bardet (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) in the sports daily. It is for all these reasons that some, like Marc Madiot, recommend banning disc brakes.

To reduce speed, and therefore extremely dangerous falls, many people think that it is appropriate (among other things) to take an interest in gears. “The evolution of the gears is incredible, every year we go up by one gear. When I turned pro (in 2018), everyone was on 53x11 ​​but we very quickly moved to 54 and today, on the flat stages, you have to wear 56 if you want to follow,” confides the French champion Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) in the columns of L'Équipe. This is why he suggests introducing a maximum gear ratio “otherwise in two years everyone will be at 58x11, that’s obvious”. His manager Marc Madiot seems to share his opinion: “Today, with disc brakes and crazy gears, there is no longer any response time in braking,” he explains in an interview with Ouest- France. I saw the thing in Ghent-Wevelgem: I was in the car, and on flat downwind sections, we were at more than 70 all the time. On the plate ! And when you drive with 62 x 11 gears, obviously everything goes faster.” Will they be listened to?

Also read Cycling: Christian Prudhomme in favor of “bikes that go slower”

Should we eliminate, or at least limit, the use of earbuds? This is one of the oldest debates in the Little Queen world. Basically, it was about sport, spectacle. Now it is back on the table for security reasons. Indeed, with the earpieces, sports directors have the opportunity to encourage their riders to reposition themselves regularly, and particularly during sensitive passages, which inevitably creates very tense situations in the peloton. “We must leave the reins of the race to us in the heat of the moment. We often find ourselves in situations of extreme stress for nothing. The earpieces create robotic, remote-controlled runners and situations of artificial danger,” estimates Romain Bardet, still in L’Équipe. Marc Madiot thinks no less. To argue, he takes a concrete example, that of the chicane installed at the entrance to the Trouée d'Arenberg, on Paris-Roubaix: "What are we going to say on Sunday in the atrium before the Trouée d'Arenberg? 'Arenberg? We will all say the same thing, without exception: 'Stand back, we have to approach the chicane in the lead', he assures in the columns of Ouest-France. There is good will on the part of the organizers. I understand that (Thierry) Gouvenou is tired of seeing broken collarbones on the entrance to the cobblestones but, as I told him on the phone yesterday (Wednesday), instead of falling on the cobblestones, it will fall first. For the moment, the ban on earbuds is only defended by a minority of players in the cycling community. Most of them wish to keep them, considering that they help prevent road dangers and therefore limit incidents. Suffice to say that this idea has very little chance of succeeding (for the moment).

Also read Cycling: “Recast everything and take inspiration from motorsport”, Madiot sounds the alarm after the accident in the Basque Country

Among the other options considered is the removal of power meters and sensors during racing. The goal ? Ensuring that runners have (more) eyes on the road rather than on their screen. “Today, the rider on his bike is like a guy in his car who has his phone with Waze and his screens. We are not concentrated in the same way as when we have nothing at all,” said Marc Madiot in Ouest-France. Although it appears interesting on paper, this idea is not unanimous. “But all these are lost battles,” regrets the manager of Groupama-FDJ.

In order to reduce the number of falls at high speed, it also seems important to improve the condition of the roads, or at least to avoid having runners pass over damaged roads. Moreover, the poor state of the asphalt could be the cause of the serious fall that occurred this Thursday on the 4th stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. In any case, this is the opinion of several participants. “I know the descent, the asphalt is a little damaged by tree roots,” revealed local Pello Bilbao in comments reported by L’Équipe. The new leader of the general classification, the Dane Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) said the same thing at the end of the stage: “The road was really bumpy, we were fighting for the best positions and we arrived a little quickly. There was nothing to do, it’s really bad luck and it’s no one’s fault,” he said. But how can we improve the roads? That's another question...

Also readCycling: Merijn Zeeman says goodbye to cycling and hello to football

Another idea: reinforce (even more) the signage at dangerous crossings. This is the proposal put forward by Romain Bardet: “What we can see on the Tour de France, we must make it automatic everywhere. I have never seen dangerous behavior from a rider in a well-signposted turn, with a guy whistling or a sign with an audible signal, underlines the Frenchman, victim of a major fall on Tirreno-Adriatico. It requires more logistics, more infrastructure, but given the way things are going, we have to think about it.” Very interesting on paper, this idea requires more resources. While larger organizations could afford it, it's unclear whether smaller races could. But that would be enough!

One of the solutions recommended to reduce the speed of runners is to force them to brake using road improvements. This is exactly what has been put in place for the 2024 edition of Paris-Roubaix, which will take place this Sunday. Indeed, to ensure that the couriers do not enter the Trouée d'Arenberg, one of the most difficult paved sectors of the Hell of the North, at more than 60 km/h, the organizers, on request of the riders' union, installed a chicane a few meters before. Thus, runners will have to go around the island, including a left U-turn. They should then approach the Trouée d’Arenberg at nearly 25 km/h. A measure welcomed by several actors, such as Richard Plugge. “Great job. Together, we are taking the safety of our sport to the next level,” applauded the manager of Visma-Lease a Bike. However, several voices were raised to criticize this initiative. And on the front row Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) for whom “the chicane makes the race even more dangerous”. “It's good that people are trying something, but in my opinion it's not the right method,” added the Dutch champion. This avenue will undoubtedly need to be thought through more for it to achieve consensus.

Also read Paris-Roubaix: for Van der Poel, “the chicane will make the race even more dangerous”

Logically, to reduce the number of falls, we must also find a way to limit dangerous behavior in the peloton. Christian Prudhomme, the head of cycling at ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), indicated that systems of “warnings, yellow and red cards” were “under study”. The goal ? “Penalize behavior, remove riders who do not respect the rules,” declared the director of the Tour de France in an interview with France Bleu Nord. According to him, runners “must make a difference where they can on competitive and selective sporting terrain, but not by taking crazy risks”. Such a system would be a small revolution in the world of the Little Queen.

Another avenue that could be explored concerns rider protections. As Frédéric Grappe, the performance director of Groupama-FDJ, indicated last year in Le Figaro, “the only protection we have today is the helmet and gloves”. And according to him, great progress could be made in this area. “We can use reinforced shorts to avoid abrasions but it is not very developed,” he explained to us in June 2023, after the fall which cost the life of Gino Mäder. We could very well force runners to wear elbow pads. They would do it, or think about a carbon blade at shoulder level... But before embarking on this path, let's do real work on falls to understand where and how the trauma comes from. In addition, some equipment manufacturers have developed airbags that wrap the entire head. However, they have not been adopted by professional cycling, or more generally by the competitive world, in particular because they are heavier and more cumbersome. One thing is certain: improving rider protection is one of the avenues that seems to have the most future.

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