The Vuelta a Espana managed to get through stage 12 without a rider being taken out by a race vehicle - a feat which seems to be quite an accomplishment - but the polemics surrounding rider safety have continued unabated with Gianni Bugno, president of the CPA (Professional Cyclists Association), appealing to the UCI to "finally stop this bloodbath".
The world might have been shocked at Peter Sagan's violent reaction to being crashed by a neutral support motorcycle on stage 8, but even more brutal were the images of his teammate Sergio Paulinho's blood covered leg - also the result of a run-in with a motorbike. The team threatened to boycott the rest of the Vuelta, but decided to continue racing after a morning meeting with officials.
The horrific crash between a French TV car with breakaway riders Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland in the 2011 Tour de France may have seemed like an isolated incident at the time, but UCI president Brian Cookson today acknowledged that there have been too many crashes recently. High-profile incidents like Taylor Phinney being grievously injured by a stopped motorcycle official on a descent last year, Jesse Sergent (Trek) being taken out by a Shimano support car in the Tour of Flanders, Greg Van Avermaet being crashed on the finale of the Clasica San Sebastian, and the incidents in the Vuelta have brought the issue to a fever pitch.
Bugno joined BMC manager Jim Ochowicz and Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkov in demanding greater assurances for rider safety from the UCI.
"We also ask you to not stand still in front of this issue," Bugno wrote in an open letter to the UCI that was also sent to the media. "It is no longer possible to believe that these accidents are simply due to fate or misfortune that happen to our riders at the Vuelta and at other important competitions since the beginning of the year. We rather believe in a lack of organization, stricter rules and checks that limit the traffic during the race and allow the rider to do their job with major security."
Bugno called for a "fast and urgent meeting in Aigle" between the CPA and the UCI road commission "where the riders can explain their demands to finally stop this bloodbath".
The Tinkoff-Saxo team met with the UCI commissaires, the Vuelta a Espana race director Javier Gulliem and representatives of TV España to negotiate better communication and larger minimum distances that vehicles must keep from the riders, but Cookson said the UCI will begin looking into longer term improvements over the winter.
"Safety is the most important thing for the UCI, and I'm sure for everybody. Everybody has a responsibility - the riders have a responsibility as well, but certainly the drivers of the cars, motos, especially have a responsibility for safety," Cookson said in an interview with Universal Sports. "We're certainly seeing too many accidents. Part of that is the environmental conditions, and traffic calming features in the road and so on, but also there are some examples of human error.
"There will always be crashes in bike racing, but we have to make sure they are minimized as much as possible. We are looking at how to get better trained officials, we've licensed the officials more effectively, and if there are accidents we take swift action. The road commission met two days ago, and we're going to institute a study and look at the problem and make sure we have some changes over the winter in time for next year. That might include looking at training drivers, or looking at the number of riders in a race."
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