Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step) made an impassioned plea to race organisers and the UCI to push the priority of rider safety up to the same level as anti-doping in a statement on his personal Facebook page today. The move comes in the wake of the tragic death of Antoine Demoitie in Gent-Wevelgem. The 25-year-old died as the result of injuries sustained when he was run over by a race motorcycle after crashing.
"It's clear: Cycling's biggest problem was doping and still has to be fought," Kittel wrote. "But the safety issues that are obvious, should get the same attention and priority as the fight for clean sport. Not only because lives can be lost but also because there wasn't done much until now. [The] last major change was the Extreme Weather Protocol that was introduced this year. And before that, and only after the death of Andrei Kivilev, the UCI made helmets compulsory in 2003."
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Kittel argues that the evolution of cycling in the modern era must include improvements to the courses and all of the aspects of the races.
"It's necessary to set higher and better standards for professional bike races and that's not up to the riders but to the organisers and the UCI," Kittel said.
"It's easy to say that the riders are doing the race and therefore have the responsibility for it. But it's simply not true. There are so many things in a race that are beyond the control of a rider: dangerous finishes, all the other vehicles that follow the race, spectators and weather for example. The riders are busy enough with concentrating on the race and need to trust organisers and the rules that they will be guided safely by experienced people on carefully chosen roads.
"We need to work together to keep this sport safe and give sense to the tragic accident of Antoine Demoitie. It would be great if we can see some major changes and development out of a discussion over safety. We need to start talking openly about it now. That's what I expect from my governing body and rider association.
"For starters it would be good to see more experienced, well trained drivers in cars and on motorbikes, a yearly statistic that keeps track of crashes in races in order to see a positive or negative development, and more signs/flashing lights that indicate sharp corners or dangerous points.
"Tomorrow at the start of the 3 Days of De Panne we will mourn the loss of Antoine and pay respect to him, his family and team after this horrible accident. We owe it to Antoine that we do everything to let that never happen again."
- De Panne organisers focus on safety after death of Demoitie
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