UCI President Brian Cookson has written a long message following the death of Antoine Demoitié as a consequence of the Belgian rider's accident with a motorbike during Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. He called on everyone in the sport to do as much as possible to protect the safety of the riders and help to improve the safe organisation of races.
Cookson promised that the UCI would work with the relevant authorities to investigate the accident but warned people about jumping to conclusions before any investigations are completed.
“In the hours and days following the tragic death of Antoine Demoitié, many people have contacted me directly or indirectly, or have commented on social media, to express their concern and to demand action. As President of the UCI, I take these comments seriously and feel that I have a duty to respond,” Cookson writes.
“The first and most important thing to say must be to offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to Antoine’s family and team. We can hardly begin to imagine how they must feel at this moment. And we, all of us who love the sport of cycling, owe them two things.”
He also talked at length about what the UCI is doing to improve race safety, revealing that the UCI is “in active discussions with the relevant parties on proposals to reduce the size of the overall race peloton”.
The UCI president shies away from calling for any kind of immediate action driven by an emotional desire to find immediate simple solutions. Instead he is keen to first identify the root cause of the problem of the seemingly increasing number of crashes and accidents involving riders and race vehicles.
“The key question therefore is, given the nature of our sport, how do we minimise the risks? There's a quotation that I have used before that I think is relevant here; 'For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple… and wrong',” Cookson argued.
“Complex problems require complex solutions. The fact is that road racing as we know it and love it could not take place without motorcycles, cars and other vehicles, often in close attendance. They are there to carry out a function, and that function relates directly to how and where they are in the race. So many people have commented on the recent tragedy, believing that the motorcycle in question was there to take television footage or photographs. It wasn't. Neither was it a case of an inexperienced motorcyclist. Nor a case of a motorcyclist overtaking riders in a reckless fashion. As I’ve said, I can’t say too much more, but the point I am making is, I hope, clear – if you want to find solutions, you have to correctly identify the problem.”
- Riders, teammates and friends pay tribute to Antoine Demoitie
- Gent-Wevelgem and the tragic loss of Antoine Demoitie - Cyclingnews Podcast
- Kittel says rider safety needs same priority as anti-doping after Demoitie's death
Possible rule changes to increase safety
Cookson called on everyone to ride and drive more carefully in races to protect the riders' safety. He confirmed that rules could be changed to improve safety.
“So here is the issue. I'll take my responsibilities seriously, as will the whole of the UCI. And I'm asking everyone to do the same – yes, motorcycle pilots have to ensure they don't interfere with the racing, or cause danger to the riders or others," he wrote.
"Race organisers have to ensure that their courses are as safe as possible, correctly marshalled, signed and with riders and spectators protected by appropriate barriers, etc., where necessary. Team car drivers have to ensure that they drive safely in the race, just as they would if driving their own families. Riders have to ensure that they take responsibility for their own, and each other's safety. And the public, the fans, they too have a responsibility to behave safely and correctly at races, and not cause danger to the riders. We can all think of many incidents that exemplify each of these aspects, I'm sure.
“So, whether directly relevant to the specific incident or not, it’s clear that all of these issues have been brought into focus by this tragedy. Over the next few weeks, the UCI will continue the work it has been doing for several months on an on-going basis, to address safety in road racing. I certainly anticipate that there will be changes in rules and in recommendations about the conduct of those involved. But at the end of the day, rules and recommendations can only go so far in regulating human behaviour. We all must remember that we have responsibility not just for our own safety but also for the safety of the people around us. Perhaps that way our sport will have a legacy that Antoine Demoitié deserves.”