Top German sprinter calls for broader debate on rider safety
Stage one favourite Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has said that the Tour de France’s two opening days in Yorkshire could be dangerous for such a large peloton, saying “you take more risks by going on these roads.”
“The organisers could use bigger roads, and if they did and then something happened, then it would be our [the riders] fault,” Kittel told Cyclingnews earlier this year.
“It’s a fact we’ll be using some very narrow roads. I’m sure for riders’ safety it would be better if they were wider.
“There will be lots of spectators, you can see that even when there’s a three-lane road, sometimes they turn it into a tunnel. Where can they [the spectators] go if there are stone walls? I’m curious as to what is going to happen.”
Asked about whether neutralising a stage when it was excessively dangerous – as happened at a waterlogged stage in Bari for all but the last lap through the city in the recent Giro d’Italia – was the right option, Kittel responded by drawing a comparison.
“Bari was like on the [Giro stage over the] Stelvio,” - where some riders raced the descent while others, thinking the stage had been neutralised, did not - “because both times we needed clear rules and we did not have them.
“You can’t really expect the riders to come up with a clear position: even if there’s a group decision to go slowly in dangerous conditions, there’ll always be someone who decides they want to race.
“So you need someone from outside, a race jury who makes a clear decision. The rules are not clear enough and there has to be more respect for rider safety.”
Kittel currently feels that riders do not get enough consultation on these questions. “At the moment, the hierarchy is the race organisers and the UCI [on top], then it’s the teams, and finally the riders. We are always the last to be asked to join any discussion, even though most times they don’t even ask us.
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“I think the last time we were actually asked about rider safety was about bike forks [with the regulations changed in 2012 - ed.] And before that, the previous one would have been the helmet question [which started to become obligatory from 2003 onwards - ed.] That definitely has to change. And if the UCI is open to changes now in some areas, they should be open to other ones.”
Kittel agrees that opening up the debate on rider safety is a big issue, but that history suggests that after initial debate, new regulations on safety, once confirmed, quickly reach a broad base of support in the peloton.
“It’s a tough balance, but if it happens, then even one year afterwards, nobody will even question what has been decided,” he said.
“There’s always a huge discussion beforehand, but once it happens, then that’s that, we all go along with the new rules, now it’s all good. It’s like helmets being made obligatory. All the young riders now say they can’t imagine even going training, let alone racing, without a helmet.”