Vehicular Interference

What do the following athletes have in common?

Taylor Phinney, Jesse Sergent, Sébastien Chavanel, Jakob Fuglsang, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Sergio Paulinho, Raija Ogden and Usain Bolt.

Most of them are cyclists and most are famous. But the one thing that brings them all together is the misfortune of being hit by some sort of motorised vehicle while competing (or just after).

Some of the incidents were not so serious. For example, Jakob Fuglsang was hit by a motorbike during stage 18 of this year’s Tour. He was able to remount and finished the day in fifth. Greg Van Avermaet, while not seriously injured, believes he would have won this year’s Clasica San Sebastian if he had not been brought down by a moto.

For most, though, the repercussions were more significant. Just in the last week, Tinkoff-Saxo riders Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho have been forced out of Vuelta. Both Jesse Sergent and Sébastien Chavanel were forced to abandon this year’s Tour of Flanders when they were hit by neutral service cars in separate incidents. And Taylor Phinney fractured his tibia, dislocated his fibula, shattered his kneecap and severed his patellar tendon when he was brought down by an official on a motorbike during last year’s US Road Race Championship.

And while cars and motorbikes are the main culprits in cycling, newer types of technology are also causing problems. Raija Ogden, who you probably haven’t heard of, was reportedly hit by a drone while competing in a triathlon in Western Australia last year. And Usain Bolt, who you probably have heard of, was hit by a Segway-driving cameraman while celebrating his world championship victory in the 200 metres in August this year.

Of course, this sort of interference is not new in sport. One of the most infamous collisions took place in the 2011 Tour when a French TV car brought down Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, the latter being flung into a barbed-wire fence. Remarkably, both riders went on to complete the stage (and the Tour).

While not unheard of in the past, there is no doubt that there has recently been an increase in these sorts of incidents. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is. In cycling we can look at the growing peloton and an increase in our thirst for live images. Perhaps there has also been an erosion of trust between cyclists and drivers that is creating a more nervous environment.

Whatever the reason(s), race organisers need to make changes. The most obvious are to train drivers more and reduce the number of vehicles. It’s all very well to eject someone who causes a crash but this occurs after the fact and is no good to anyone.

Another issue relates to who is at fault and what form compensation should take. Tinkoff-Saxo boss Oleg Tinkov has asked Vuelta organiser, Unipublic, for a public apology and money equivalent to a stage win to go to a charity in the wake of the Sagan crash. He might be waiting for some time – Hoogerland only reached a settlement for compensation in November last year for his 2011 crash.

While fault and compensation are up for debate, there is no doubt that organisers need to quickly make changes to ensure the safety of riders is restored. Otherwise, we might see a lot more of this*:

By Laurence Guttmann

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