It may take a more serious – and certainly a more clear-cut – incident than those suffered by Owain Doull (Team Sky) and Fran Ventoso (BMC Racing) for the UCI to take urgent action over disc brakes, says CPA riders association representative Adam Hansen.
"The sad thing is someone might have to take a bullet for change to happen," the Lotto Soudal rider told Cyclingnews in Abu Dhabi on Friday, the morning after Doull claimed his shoe had been sliced and his foot cut by one of Marcel Kittel’s rotors.
"There hasn’t been a really serious – like a fatal – accident yet, but as soon as there is," Hansen said, leaving the sentence conspicuously open ended.
Hansen is the CPA rider representative for the Abu Dhabi Tour, and he said disc brakes were a “hot topic” in the dinner hall at the teams’ hotel Thursday evening. He had a busy night, listening to the thoughts of the other riders and also relaying information back to the CPA headquarters.
"A lot of riders are concerned and worried about it, and they just hope it’s not the disc brake," he said.
The Australian said it might take 'a bullet’ for the sport’s governing body to step in and stop its disc brake trials for a second time, but he conceded that the matter was complicated by the lack of a smoking gun.
Indeed, it cannot be concretely proven that Doull’s cut was caused by a rotor and, as was to be expected in this social media age, various theories, arguments and counter-arguments have emerged online, with some claiming it was more likely caused by the upturned foot of a roadside barrier at the flamme rouge.
"There has been a lot of communication between the UCI and the CPA – especially last night, because we’re not sure if it was or wasn’t disc brakes that caused it,” said Hansen, who then offered his own take.
"It’s a bit strange how there’s one rider on disc brakes, and that one rider is in that crash. It looks pretty clear that it was from a disc brake. There are images showing that Kittel is nowhere near him, but on the other hand, if you look where Kittel crashed, his bike isn’t in view either. So the bike could have been anywhere else. In that sense, nothing is really sure, but it looks pretty clear to me."
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The incident came at a sensitive time, bringing the great disc brake debate back to a boil after it had begun to simmer in the previous couple of weeks, with the CPA and the UCI involved in a stern exchange of letters.
The CPA demanded that the current trial is stopped, given that a survey of theirs showed the majority of riders are unhappy – though the UCI questioned why they only started to complain after formally approving the conditions for the retrial. Disc brake rotors must now be rounded, after the original 2016 trial was halted in April when Fran Ventoso suffered a gash to his leg, but the CPA objects to mixed braking systems in the peloton and is pushing for protective casings for the rotors.
Many riders at the Abu Dhabi Tour have voiced their opposition to disc brakes, if not in general then in terms of the way they have been introduced and the safety concerns that have ensued. With the incident coming shortly after the UCI had dismissed the CPA’s concerns in writing, Hansen played down suggestions of a collective statement or protest, insisting the matter should be resolved diplomatically.
"It’s not something that we can – or want to – sort out here at Abu Dhabi," he said. "There were some talks, people were asking maybe we should have a protest or something here, but the riders don’t want to harm this race – especially with it being their first time in WorldTour calendar.
"The riders, we don’t want to do something like this, and the CPA never wants something like this. It’s more about the CPA trying to talk to the UCI. Hopefully the incident yesterday proves some more stuff about it and we have a bigger case. I think it will be sorted pretty clearly in the future."
Rider representation: 'We're getting there'
Tour de France champion Chris Froome expressed his disappointment with the CPA in an interview with Cyclingnews published on Friday, arguing that riders’ voices aren’t being adequately represented. He is not alone. The CPA has in the past faced accusations of ineffectiveness as a rider union, and Geraint Thomas sarcastically wrote on Twitter after Doull’s crash: "If only we had a properly run riders union hey CPA."
Hansen concedes the body does not represent riders as well as it ideally should, but he insisted progress and effort are being made.
"At the moment it’s difficult, because the way the CPA is formed is we all represent our different countries, and it’s hard to represent everyone. We’re doing our best at the moment, and there has been a huge improvement. For sure it will take time but we’re getting there. We just need more backing from the riders, and we’re still working towards a proper representation of the riders.
"It’s happening slowly, like I notice when I’m here a lot of riders come and ask me about the 3km rule for example. So riders are aware we have representatives and they can come up to me. We are trying.
"We now have a representative at every WorldTour race, but we had a weather incident at the Dubai Tour and it isn’t WorldTour – and getting a representative at every race is something we’ve got to move forward into. But this costs money and time, and a lot of us aren’t getting paid. We’re trying to do our best but it’s still a difficult task."
Hansen said it was an uphill struggle for the CPA and other bodies to push the UCI to introduce key safety measures for the final 3km of racing, and he indicated that with disc brakes it will be another case of stubbornly knocking on the door.
"We’re doing our best. It’s more just trying to get the UCI on our side," he said. "All we can do at the moment is push our case further and don’t hold back, keep going against the UCI, and just hope it goes through."