Today's release of a set of safety proposals by the Cyclistes Professionels Associés (CPA), the professional riders’ association, now puts the responsibility for change squarely on the shoulders of the UCI, whose management committee is meeting this week in Lausanne for two days of wide-ranging discussions.
Some of the peloton's most vocal advocates for rider safety are hoping they'll soon see the sport's governing body take a more active role in ensuring rider safety by adopting some, if not all, of the CPA's proposals.
Last month at the Tour of California, Bernhard Eisel, the Dimension Data rider who has frequently called for more rider unity in demanding change, told Cyclingnews that current talks between the stakeholders involved have been positive.
“There's been good communication, good talks between the riders and the UCI and the CPA happening at the moment,” he said. “It's still ongoing, so the press release is not written yet. Wait and see. I'm still pushing for it and we're getting there. That's the only thing we can say here at the moment.”
An alarming string of incidents over the past couple of years involving collisions between riders and vehicles has intensified calls for the UCI to take more responsibility for creating a safer environment for the peloton, coming to a crescendo most recently with the tragic death of Antoine Demoitié, who died from injuries suffered when he was struck by a race moto in Gent-Wevelgem while he lay on the ground following a crash. Lotto Soudal rider Stig Broeckx is currently in a coma after two motorbikes caused a huge crash at the Belgium Tour last weekend.
Following Demoitié's death, UCI President Brian Cookson released a statement saying that the governing body has been “working over the past months with all stakeholders on revised protocols and regulations regarding all aspects of road racing, and particularly the conduct of race vehicles, as a matter of continual review.”
The CPA and the teams are hoping this week's meeting will produce a new set of wide-ranging protocols and regulations, but BMC Racing General Manager Jim Ochowicz told Cyclingnews in California that he hadn't heard any word about how the process was going.
“I know that they're in discussions obviously because of all these situations that have taken place in the last two years," he said when asked about the UCI's efforts. "It's gone too far, and there needs to be some rules put in place and then enforced. There's still a long way to go I think.
“The main thing is that everyone's alert to it,” Ochowicz continued. “Everybody's alert to it. The organisers here are alert to it. The riders are alert to it. The team directors are alert to it. Anybody in a car, a motorbike, whatever, they know they don't want to be involved in that, so that's a good thing. Awareness helps."
Brent Bookwalter, another outspoken advocate for rider safety and a board member of the Association of North American Professional Road Cyclists (ANAPRC), said he wasn't sure what to expect from the UCI when the anticipated changes are announced, adding that the riders hope to continue the momentum they've built over the past several years in playing a bigger role in making the sport safer for everyone.
“We've done a pretty big effort to sort of pre-package a couple of safety solutions with some good research and good studies to back it up,” he said. “There's been a lot of input from riders, teams, doctors, races – everything – and then we presented it to them almost like plug-and-play solutions. Hopefully we'll see some of that stuff implemented and keep working towards a safer sport that we've kind of been fighting for more openly in the past year or two.”
Bookwalter said the extreme weather protocol that is now on the books is only the first example of what the riders and their associations hope to accomplish.
“That isn't the solution that we proposed, and it's not as in-depth as we were looking for, but it's the first time in cycling history that there's even been those words that were spoken at a race and in the rules,” he said. “In a sport that's steeped in such long-standing tradition, I think it's a feat just to get something new on the books, and we'll keep working for more comprehensive rules as well.”
Greater rider unity through the growing rider unions and associations is key to having their voices heard in decisions that affect the safety of their profession, Bookwalter said.
“It's long been considered that we, as riders, don't have much say and don't have much influence, and we're kind of just little pawn in the chess game,” he said. “I don't think we've asserted ourselves as much as we're capable of yet, but I think we're getting there, and we're getting more and more good professional people to step up and help us.
“That's important because you go these meetings with the other stakeholders, whether it's the UCI or the race organisations, and they have real professionals. They have high-powered lawyers and businessmen and marketing professionals, and there's no reason that the riders shouldn't have the same kind of professionals in our court, too. It's important to see that progress.”