One situation led to a serious crash and two badly injured riders; the other fortunately didn’t see any ill effects happen, but riders felt that there very nearly could have been. The organisers of the Eneco Tour and the Arctic Race of Norway were both facing questions on Thursday, with riders and teams expressing concern at what they felt were unnecessary and unacceptable risks imposed on them.
The first incident occurred inside the final kilometre of stage four of the Eneco Tour. As the riders hurtled into Ardooie, Ag2r La Mondiale rider Davide Appollonio tracked left in pursuit of Giant Shimano’s Luka Mezgec. His sudden move coincided with a sideways glance by Mezgec’s team-mate Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, who didn’t see Appollonio cut across him and wasn’t able to react.
He hit the ground, causing several other riders to swerve left and right to avoid him. The concertina effect pushed Aleksandr Porsev (Katusha) into the barriers on the right and defending champion Zdenek Stybar into those on the left.
Both were hurled to the ground, thrown from their machines when their front wheels hit the feet of the barriers. The accidents would likely not have been severe had the organisers not used barriers with jutting legs, similar to those which caused the catastrophic crash of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov in the 1991 Tour de France.
Stybar’s crash was particularly nasty looking, with the rider hitting the ground face first and his bike cartwheeling in the air.
He lay on the ground for many minutes afterwards, concerned team-mates and other riders around him and his face, body and Omega Pharma-QuickStep colours splattered with blood. His neck was put in a brace, he was loaded onto a rigid back board and then put into an ambulance and brought to the H.-Hartziekenhuis Roselare hospital.
“Results of the examination showed deep wounds on the upper and lower lip, as well as broken teeth,” stated his team. “He had radiological examinations, as well as scans, which showed no fractures or cerebral lesions.”
It added that he would be kept under observation at the hospital, with further information to be released on Friday.
Porsev also remained on the ground for several minutes and was clearly hurt. He was diagnosed with a fracture to his right collarbone. He went to the same hospital as Stybar and will have a plate inserted to help the break heal.
“There was no way to get away,” he said. “My front wheel hit the barrier and one second later I was on the floor. I knew immediately that I had a serious problem. It is a pity as I was in good shape and I was really keen to perform well in Eneco, Hamburg and Canada. Now we need to see what is still possible for the rest of the season.”
The organisers were criticised for the type of barriers used and, reportedly, have conceded that a mistake was made. Riders and others have called on the UCI to introduce a rule requiring the use of flat-feeted barriers. The measure would prevent wheels from snagging and pitching riders upwards.
Meanwhile the Arctic Race of Norway also came under scrutiny due to a completely different type of risk along the route of stage one to North Cape.
Sprinters Marcel Kittel (Giant Shimano) and Sam Bennett (NetApp Endura) both voiced their concerns afterwards via Twitter.
“Why does the organization of @ArcticRaceofN send a nervous peloton in the final through a dark tunnel where we reach 100km/h on a wet road?!” asked Kittel. “It seems to be always ok as long as nothing happens. But if they would crash there…. Don’t wanna think about it!”
Bennett message was even more worrying. “There is not many moments I have been that scared on a bike. 100kph down hill for 3km in a very dark wet tunnel. Some tunnels I saw nothing!” he stated.
He said that the riders would have to travel along the same road on Friday, although fortunately they will be moving more slowly due to the uphill slope.
Thursday’s incidents have once again turned a spotlight onto the subject of rider safety and show the need for a strong voice from the peloton – plus greater respect from organisers – on such matters.