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Laurens ten Dam: Jakobsen crash a turning point for rider safety

Procycling magazine’s 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. Here, Laurens ten Dam expresses concerns about rider safety after seeing major crashes this year in WorldTour races and says momentum is here for change. 

Laurens ten Dam, who retired in 2019 after 17 years in the pro peloton, is Procycling’s columnist.

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Oh man, I wish I could dedicate this page to all the beautiful racing we’ve seen lately. 

I had plenty of subjects to write about. To start, I could have written about Wout van Aert beating the tiny climbers on their home soil on the very steep roads of Strade Bianche. Another angle would be the fact that the alpha males of team Jumbo-Visma kicked the Ineos strategists back to their drawing board, and there is no Froomey and 'G' in the Tour. And, the most important thing for the next decade, the unstoppable rise of the phenomenon who is going to dominate cycling: Remco Evenepoel.

But no, after three weeks of racing there is one subject above all the rest: rider safety. I’ve had sleepless nights over Fabio Jakobsen’s crash during the fastest sprint finish in cycling at the Tour of Poland. I’ve seen Tour de France favourites tackle a descent I wouldn’t put up with in a gravel race. And in Lombardy, the rise of Remco could have been stopped at a very young age. He was lucky he ‘only’ broke his pelvis, after crashing over the bridge on the Sormano descent. 

All three crashes took place in WorldTour races. This is like the Formula One of cycling, not a race out in the fields in the middle of nowhere. In the 1960s and 1970s alone, 17 Formula One drivers died in an F1 or World Championship race or practice. Those men looked death in the eyes every weekend. The press and public loved the tension. 

Until Ayrton Senna, one of the big stars of the show, died. That was important. Drivers didn’t want to put their lives in danger every weekend any more. The press and general public acknowledged that they were part of the problem, too. Where they took a casualty for granted before and saw the drivers as gladiators, now they would not dare to watch a life ending crash, and have supported all the safety measures. 

Cycling is still like the old-school Formula One of the 70s. There are no safety standards at all. In Formula One, every piece of gear is tested for its safety. In cycling, teams can mount 15g bottle holders which have to hold a 600g bottle without one question being asked. Those bottles aren’t being tested for how they react when you ride over them. No gear is tested for safety, with the exception of frames and helmets. 

If BMW paid enough money to ASO, instantly all the motos in the Tour de France would be those big ones with two wheels in the front. That there would be less space for the bunch on the road is a small side problem. If riders moan about it, they have to shut up. 

I am not even talking about standards for racing circuits. There is no standard on barriers, for example. Currently, riders are handed over to the compassion and the deepness of the pockets of the race organiser, which were not very deep in the Tour of Poland’s case. When Fabio hit the barriers they didn’t do anything at all.

Remember, this was a WorldTour event. It is like Formula One racing on the street circuits back in the 70’s. And we all tolerate it still. 

I hope that the crash in Poland was a turning point, like Senna’s crash in 1994. The general public’s sentiment has changed. We don’t tolerate fearless young men and women putting their lives in danger any more when it is not necessary. It is up to the UCI now. Bring the stakeholders together. Riders, teams and organisers must meet on the same table and do something constructive on rider safety.

The momentum is there. We want change.

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