The Tinkoff-Saxo team has announced it will continue in the Vuelta a Espana after obtaining a series of actions to improve rider safety from the race organisers. The team’s riders began today’s stage from Andorra to Lleida with Rafa Majka fourth overall, 1:28 behind new race leader Fabio Aru (Astana).
The Russian team was angry and threatened to quit the race after what it described as the “reckless and unacceptable behavior of a TV motorbike" meant Sergio Paulinho was forced out of the race and needed 17 stitches to stop the bleeding and close an artery that was affected by the accident. The Russian team claimed that the television motorbike failed to move out of Paulinho’s racing line as he took a right turn, in breach of safety regulations.
Spanish television company TVE, who produces the live coverage, apologised to Paulinho and the Tinkoff-Saxo team in a statement but said the motorbike and rider “accidentally collided”.
Peter Sagan was also forced to quit the Vuelta after a neutral service motorbike hit him at speed near the end of stage eight. He was left with serious abrasions and burns.
Team owner Oleg Tinkov vented his anger about the Paulinho incident via Twitter and threatened to pull his riders from the Vuelta. He later deferred any decision to the team’s management, writing: “Will see if my guys have the balls?”
Prior to the start of Stage 12 in Andorra, the Tinkoff-Saxo sport directors held a meeting in the team bus with the Vuelta a España race director, UCI Commissaires and representatives of TV España, with the team presenting a list of minimum requirements for them to continue in the race. Other suggestions were made and three initial steeps were taken with the team consequently agreeing to stay in the Vuelta.
Tinkoff-Saxo revealed that the race director will issue a radio communication to all vehicles that safety of the rider is the first and paramount objective and that no risk should be taken to get a video or photo of riders, that the minimum safety distance between motorized vehicles and riders is doubled from the current 5 to 10 meters. The race organisers also promised to “thoroughly review and assess the status of all drivers of motorized vehicles, including their driver licenses, qualifications and experience, in order to ensure they are fully capable of safely performing their job”.
The team said that “a subsequent meeting will also take place after the end of today's racing in order to further discuss the safety remaining issues and concerns, and find a viable, long-term solution for the safety of the teams and the riders. Hopefully, that meeting will close this case.
“Tinkoff-Saxo’s management believes that these initial measures are a sign of attention to riders’ safety and agreed to start today’s stage under the condition that the team will remain in the race as long as safety is guaranteed,” a statement said.
However, the team threatened to quit the race “if another accident similar to the ones that involved Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho takes place again”.
Before Wednesday’s incident the Tinkoff-Saxo team wrote an open letter to the UCI and Vuelta organisers hoping that “all stakeholders can learn from the [Sagan]incident and that some of the requested measures can help to prevent similar unfortunate situations from happening again and to offer better protection of the safety of riders and ensure the fairness of a race."
The UCI told Cyclingnews that “a full review of the current regulations will be made before the start of the 2016 season, including those governing the conduct of drivers in races and the licensing requirements for the drivers."