Robbie McEwen will once again ask for more protection for the sprinters from preventable accidents. He almost crashed in yesterday's Paris-Tours, unclipping his foot close to the line and bumping into Oscar Freire. Both being skilled sprinters, they stayed upright, but it wasn't a technical malfunction that caused the Australian to unclip his foot in an untimely moment.
McEwen told Cyclingnews that "I was hit on the head by a spectator about 100 metres to go which caused me to almost crash, foot out of pedal.... The impact nearly knocked me straight off."
This is not the first time such an incident has happened in the final metres, when the bunch comes flying down at 60 or 70 kilometres an hour. Thor Hushovd cut open his arm in last year's Tour de France, when he was close to the barriers and hit one of the green PMU cardboard hands that were given out to spectators. The cardboard hands have not been given out this year, but clearly that has not been the solution to the problem.
Gerald Ciolek had two encounters with spectators this year. In the Deutschland Tour, coming too close to the public in the sprint merely cost him the win, but in Poland he hit the deck after a similar incident.
McEwen cited these accidents when he declared that "I'm going to write to the UCI and ASO to ask them once again to consider using a double line of barriers in the final 250 metres of races." The Aussie could also imagine that the "the two-metre high barriers like they use at the Giro" could work. Either way, the sprinter who beats men and horses said that "There does need to be a buffer between the riders and public."
First time spectators who are unaware of the speeds, are a major contributor to problems at cycling races. A spectator at this year's Tour of California told Cyclingnews that "We have been to parades before," only to complain about the motorbikes ahead of the race. "Why are they going so fast?" The motorbikes were of course just going as fast as the peloton, which can exceed 60 kilometres an hour in the closing phases of the race, with the final speed often more than 70 kilometres an hour.
Not all accidents can be prevented. Some want a close up shot of their heroes, something that one spectator was really successful in doing in 1999, taking out Italian Giuseppe Guerini just before the finish in Alpe d'Huez. Fortunately Guerini was quickly up again and still won the stage.
Lance Armstrong also fell in 2003 on the way up to Luz-Ardiden. His handle bar got tangled up in a cloth bag from a spectator. At the time the Texan admitted to riding too close to the spectators. It's impossible to close of the entire road, but definitely for the final metres in a bunch sprint something needs to be done.
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