Philippe Gilbert has criticised his fellow riders for what he perceives as a failure to turn their safety complaints into meaningful action.
The 38-year-old former world champion took part in the UCI’s latest Professional Cycling Council (PCC) meeting this week, which led to the announcement of a number of new safety measures, including standards for barriers in finishing straights.
In a meeting comprised of various stakeholders, such as associations for teams and race organisers, Gilbert was helping to represent the riders’ union, the CPA, alongside its management team and fellow rider Matteo Trentin.
In a long weekend interview with Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Gilbert expressed his frustration that there wasn’t more representation from the pro peloton.
"Well, only two riders thought it was worth taking part: Matteo Trentin and I. The CPA regularly asks riders to participate in such a meeting, but usually no one shows up, unfortunately," he said.
"It is not for my own benefit that I am participating. In principle, 20-year-old riders should commit, but apparently they don't have enough time."
Rider safety has been a major issue since the season restarted in August, with a string of incidents leading to widespread criticism of current safety standards. The worst moment came at the Tour de Pologne, where Fabio Jakobsen suffered life-threatening injuries after crashing into unstable barriers in a collision with Dylan Groenewegen on a downhill sprint.
Many riders have complained about the UCI's safety protocols, as well as the CPA's ability to defend riders' interests, but Gilbert was unhappy that his colleagues have spoken out without coming to the table when the issue was up for debate.
"The riders complain for a whole year about safety in the media, but that is not beneficial," he said. "If you want to change something as a rider, you also have to dare to open your mouth at the moments that serve that purpose, such as last week's meeting."
Many riders have, however, lost faith entirely in the CPA, with Michael Morkov describing it as "a worthless organisation". A breakaway union, named The Riders’ Union, has since been established with the backing of a number of pros, although it is not officially recognised by the UCI.
The CPA, which was set up by the UCI, has a seat at the PCC meetings, the latest of which saw the introduction of a UCI Safety Manager to oversee the range of new measures.
"The barriers were discussed a lot," Gilbert said of the meeting. "They often do not have the right profile or are placed too late - only 300 meters before the finish. Riders want those barriers to be on the side when the sprint is started at 60km/h.
"We also talked a lot about vehicles in the races. Due to my injury, I had to follow many races on TV this year. Often I wondered if I was watching a bike race or a MotoGP. They are really exaggerating with vehicles in the race. I wonder what use they all have."
Gilbert advocated for the more widespread use of the off-course detour system for vehicles to overtake the race without directly passing the riders, describing it as "the most important invention in cycling over the past five years".
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