The Riders Union has written to the UCI over safety issues at the Saudi Tour, highlighting separate situations on the opening stage that it saw as "potentially very dangerous".
The first concerned the gravel section deep into the stage that was apparently littered with solid obstacles, while the second revolved around the finishing straight, with the roadside barriers and deviation zone said to go against the rules.
The Saudi Tour is run by Tour de France organiser ASO, which could face fines if the UCI deems it was in breach of its recently-updated safety regulations.
"We have seen the images and we have several sources at the race, and it’s clear there were two potentially very dangerous situations," Luuc Eisenga, head of The Riders Union, told Cyclingnews.
The first incident saw a crash on the gravel section, with Andrea Bagioli (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) hitting the deck and falling into the middle of the peloton. The Italian cut open his elbow and required stitches, although he finished the stage and continues in the race, as is the case for the other fallers.
On Wednesday morning, The Riders Union publicly shared photos of the crash, highlighting three objects in the road, plus one traffic cone, which was presumably placed to warn of a fourth object. They cited article 2.2.015 of the UCI’s regulations, stating, “The organiser shall, by way of signs, give sufficient prior notice of any obstacle."
Eisenga described the obstacles as “large stones” and wondered why they were left unmarked. “Further up, it is protected by a cone, but the first one is not,” he said.
“For us, it’s telling that we are all saying ‘it’s OK, Bagioli was fortunately not seriously injured’, but it’s not OK. It’s still very nasty when you have a wound that requires stitches.”
As for the second incident, The Riders Union posted a photo of the finishing straight, highlighting a gap in the barriers with 150 metres to go, which was used as the deviation for motorbikes and other in-race vehicles travelling ahead of the bunch.
This time they cited article 2.2.017 in stating, “The 400 metres of barriers thus formed must be continuous and the barriers firmly attached to each other. No gaps are allowed (in particular at the finish line).”
The UCI updated its regulations on barriers ahead of the 2022 season as part of a raft of new safety measures, with Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in August 2020 underlining the need for stronger measures. The 400 metres refers to the 300 metres before the finish line and the 100 metres after it, which must be sealed by continuous barriers.
“You can’t have the deviation in the last 300 metres because it’s not in the rules,” Eisenga said.
“If you look at the images, the opening of the deviation is more to the right than the point at which the barriers re-start. You see a rider from Bahrain Victorious having to brake hard because otherwise he crashes head-on into the barriers.”
The Riders Union is not officially recognised by the UCI, which only recognises the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA), itself created and part-funded by the UCI. The Riders Union was borne out of a desire for a more “representative” and “transparent” system, and counts on over 200 members from over 30 teams.
Eisenga underlined his group’s commitment to standing up for riders, confirming that he wrote to the UCI on Wednesday morning to express the concerns.
“We respect the challenges of race organisers but it also feels like everyone should be working together to make sure these things do not happen,” he said. “There is clearly room for improvement.”
If a breach of safety regulations is established, the ASO could face a fine ranging from 10,000-50,000 Swiss Francs.
Cyclingnews contacted the ASO, who declined to comment, and the UCI, who have yet to respond.
Eager to see what stage 2 of #SaudiTour brings. Stage 1 brought some concerns: 1/2: @UCI_cycling rules 2.2.015: The organiser shall, by way of signs, give sufficient prior notice of any obstacle…. pic.twitter.com/QqZKdvoTAoFebruary 2, 2022
Concern 2: @UCI_cycling rules: 2.2.017: The 400 metres of barriers thus formed must be continuous and the barriers firmly attached to each other. No gaps are allowed (in particular at the finish line). pic.twitter.com/WX70DWFChEFebruary 2, 2022
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