UCI president David Lappartient has defended the UCI’s work to improve rider and race safety, refuting suggestions that professional cycling is moving too slowly after a number of major incidents in recent weeks.
Several leading team managers have called for an independent body to audit race safety and riders have become more united, neutralising stages at the Tour de France when they felt it was too dangerous and at the Tour de Luxembourg when vehicles entered the race route.
Lappartient called on all the sport’s stakeholders to work together rather than blame each other on social media, and he made it clear there will be no independent safety audit. Instead another meeting will be held on October 13, with the aim of fully understanding the safety problems and then finding long-term, agreed solutions.
“It’s true that we had some bad crashes with Jakobsen, Evenepoel and other riders. There’s a lot of emotion afterwards each time and we want to act but we realised it's not the time to just put a plaster or a stitch on things,” Lappartient told the media at the Imola World Championships on Saturday.
“We need a full view of the problems. I don't think the safety issues will ever end, it’s an ongoing process. We have a lot of things to do to improve safety but we must agree on the point we need to work on and how we can do it. This can be by obligations and rules and also by changing riders' habits. For example, riders with race radios have a unit on their backs and I think that can be dangerous for the riders.”
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“Of course, the barriers are an issue. We all saw what happened in Poland. Groenewegen was first at fault for pushing Jakobsen and there's an ongoing case with the Disciplinary Commission.
“We have some concerns about the finish and the Tour de Pologne organisers have said they will never use that finish again. It seems there are problems about barriers, so we have to make some specifications about this. These can be implicated soon.
“We don’t have the figures on crashes. And so in 2021 for each crash in the international calendar I want to have a full survey on the number of crashes and the reasons they occur so that we can monitor the situation.
“We can take to Twitter to blame each other. We can fight between us or work together. But we have a common goal: we want the second one.”
Lappartient also responded to questions about a number of other issues, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sport, both this year and the risk for the 2021 season.
9,500 COVID-19 tests have been carried out to protect the team and race bubbles, with 1,230 tests done for the World Championships in Imola. There have been 21 positive cases and just one in Imola.
“I think that’s a positive message for the Olympic Games and offers hope they can take place in 2021,” Lappartient said, after a visit from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach to Imola on Friday.
“Our goal now is to reach November 8 and so celebrate the end of the Women’s WorldTour in Madrid and the end of the Vuelta a España. Then we can say we saved our season, which is important for the economy of the sport."
He suggested that 18 or even 19 teams could remain in the men’s WorldTour in 2021. CCC Team are struggling to find a new title sponsor and at least eight teams may have reduced budgets, but the rescheduled race season and especially the Tour de France has been a vital lifeline for the survival of a number of teams.
Lappartient believes the Vuelta a España will go ahead but admitted concern about Paris-Roubaix due to the race passing through a number of French red zones, where COVID-19 cases are high. As per every race, the local authorities in each country have the final say on whether a race can be held.
Lappartient also hit back at attacks by several French politicians that major professional races like the Tour de France are not environmentally friendly. He revealed that riders will face stiffer punishment for dropping litter during races outside of designated drop zones, with time penalties added to higher fines.
The UCI is still investigating the Remco Evenpoel crash at Il Lombardia to confirm the item directeur sportif Davide Bramati removed from the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider’s pocket while he lay on the ground injured.
The Belgian team has insisted it was not a data modem but simply a so-called ‘finish bottle’ containing Coke, Red Bull or a bit of caffeine. However, Lappartient again spoke of his concerns about the possible use of some kind of illegal data device.
There have been several reports that teams are able to see their own rider performance data from the team car and elsewhere, and even spy on rival teams’ data to obtain a tactical advantage.
“It’s illegal to capture live data but it seems that it has happened. There’s an investigation underway by the UCI on this. We’ve asked all the stakeholders to prove us some answers,” Lappartient said.
“This is linked to the Evenepoel case and also more in general. I think Bramati said: ‘We knew he crashed because we didn’t see his data.’ That’s impossible because they're not supposed to see live data.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep and others have denied tapping into rider on-bike data but Lappartient wants to stamp it out.
“We are thinking about the solutions for this. We’re also thinking about the sanctions for potential violation of this rule,” he said.
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