After two substantial crashes took out 13 riders of Wednesday's Gent-Wevelgem, sending seven of them to hospital with broken bones and many bruises, the Belgian cycling scene is again discussing the inclusion of the culprit of the crash in the parcours of the semi-classic: the Kemmelberg. The latter is an 800m cobbled climb, averaging 9 percent, with the steepest section being 21.5 percent.
Often on the cobbled descent, water bottles will get jarred loose, and that is what happened again yesterday - causing the crashes. Tom Boonen commented dryly, "Actually, you can ride over the bidons normally. The only thing you shouldn't do is brake because there's something in front of your wheel, because then you somersault over the handlebars."
Oscar Freire, who finished third behind Marcus Burghardt and Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) in Wevelgem, didn't know how the second crash happened, as he was in front of the race at the time. "It's a dangerous part, maybe we need some more climbs before the hill," he said. "There are more crashes than before as there is less difference between the riders. That's why everybody tries to be in front," Freire explained and offered a suggestion to the UCI and race organisers: "It's not normal that we ride here with 200 riders, it's better with maybe around 120 riders."
But UCI president Pat McQuaid didn't agree. "Danger is part of the cycling sport," he told Sportwereld. "You can only try to minimise the risks." Still, the Irishman didn't want to hear of any suggestions to scrap the famous 'Kemmel' off the parcours of the Belgian one-day race.
"What would then still remain of the course? Nothing!," he argued. "Or nearly nothing. I simply think that it would be unwise to change the character of a race. And to reduce the number of riders in the peloton is not a solution, either. They would fight for position anyway to be the first ones to tackle the descent."