Rider and car (nearly) collide on the Koppenberg in the 1987 Tour of Flanders.

On Motors and Bikes: The Next Ride

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Every time I go riding, I know I subject myself to masses of cars and motorcycles, each of which has the potential to momentarily occupy the same space my bicycle and I are occupying, a physical impossibility that Nature will resolve via a messy process involving my death. I don’t know very much about the vehicles surrounding me or their drivers, apart from that they likely don’t know how vulnerable a Cyclist is, or how much longer it takes us to stop than it does them, particularly in the wet. I know that they don’t appreciate how fast a bicycle can travel, or that I likely can’t see or hear them coming up from behind, or that I don’t know whether they can see me at all or whether or not they will pull out in front of me even if they do. But I am certain that they don’t appreciate how lethal their vehicle is and I am even more certain that they are likely distracted; they might as well be pointing a loaded gun at me.

This reality comes with the territory of being a road Cyclist, and I accept that. I take every reasonable precaution I can to be safe, apart from not riding my bike in the first place; a life without Cycling on the road hardly seems like a life in the first place. I am also fortunate to have ridden as long as I have and that my experience has allowed me to develop a sort of sixth sense when it comes to recognizing which drivers are about to do something that will put me at risk. I accept the risk, I do whatever I can to control those factors I can, and hope for the privilege to return home safely and ready for The Next Ride.

I am terribly saddened by the death of Antoine Demoitie during Gent Wevelgem after being struck by a motorcycle involved with the race. I understand that motor vehicles are a part of the race, including for the purpose of providing live pictures for us, the fans. But I personally find it unacceptable that riders are being put at the same risk that we encounter on the street when we go out training. A bicycle race is already rife with danger; adding the risk of being hit by a car seems reckless.

I read Breaking the Chain shortly after it was first published. Apart from the shocking tale of drug use in the peloton, the story relays how many stimulants are used by the drivers in the following caravan. The notion that the bike race is packed to the gills with vehicles whose drivers are not only distracted and stressed out but are also intoxicated sends the imagination to dark, dark places. We will never be able to eliminate the risk of vehicles hitting riders, but we can certainly take measures to reduce their frequency. Race vehicles hitting riders isn’t new, but their occurrence have dotted race history with a frequency that makes the individual accidents noteworthy, the 1987 Tour of Flanders being a standout case. But it seems like every recent race involves an incident between a rider and a race vehicle, to the point that these accidents have even influenced the outcome of the race on several occasions. It all points to the fact that we’ve prioritized the publicity of the events over the safety of the riders. That prioritization is perverse and entirely in the race organizer’s control. It is time they take whatever measures necessary to minimize the risk to the riders who already stand to lose their lives without the help of the vehicles in the race.

On Sunday, Antoine was denied his Next Ride. Our thoughts and condolences go to his wife, family, and friends. Changing our approach to the motorcade will never bring Antoine back to life, but it can help us avoid repeating this tragedy. If the solution involves less live television coverage, then I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I’ll happily give up the privilege of seeing the races live. I hope Antoine is the last rider to suffer his fate.

// Defining Moments // La Vie Velominatus // Musings from the V-Bunker

  1. RIP Antoine. Something must be done.

  2. RIP Antoine and my sympathy to his family and teammates.

    I love watching the action but I do believe they should be using on board cameras more as well as drones. These would be much safer uses of technology.

  3. Well said, Frank.

  4. @Oli

    Agreed

  5. Ride in Peace Antoine. The races look like moving chaos with support cars and motorcycles all mingling and fighting for space with the racing Cyclists. It seems inevitable that someone eventually gets hit. A limit on the numbers of bikes based on the importance of their role to the race and a set proximity distance would seem in order. Unfortunately a great race and win, will be coloured forever by sadness after this tragedy

  6. This has been on the horizon like a black cloud. It was only a matter of time before it happened. I echo your sentiment regarding the loss of live TV coverage if that makes it safer for all concerned. This sport needs a coming together to the same effect as the F1 drivers union has after the death of the great Ayrton Senna in 1994. Sad days indeed…

  7. There are few days when I get an estranged feeling and I choose not to ride. There have been few moments when only a couple miles remain until home when the machine halts and I’ll call my wife – based on an eerie feeling. This happens with me perhaps 2 or 3 days out of the year. I never ignore the feeling to stop. If there is a good place that inspires a stop and the many voices of reason start speaking at that moment – then all I see are my kids and wife.

  8. I’ll take a ride of silence tomorrow

  9. Well, well said Frahnk. So awful. So unnecessary. And for what reason? Deaths like these bother me so much.

    As for Jesper, this is the picture that always comes to my mind.

    Fucking Dude in the sunroof should be dragged out of the car and taught a lesson by a few Flemish fans on the side of the road.

  10. The possibility of getting tangled up with a motor vehicle is very real everyday for us out on the road. It has never kept me off the bike, but it certainly has altered my choice of route to avoid congested areas. The Professionals are supposed to be on closed roads, and the number of chase vehicles has become ridiculous. I certainly hope this sparks some real discussion and change in the organized races.

  11. @universo

    There are few days when I get an estranged feeling and I choose not to ride. There have been few moments when only a couple miles remain until home when the machine halts and I’ll call my wife – based on an eerie feeling. This happens with me perhaps 2 or 3 days out of the year. I never ignore the feeling to stop. If there is a good place that inspires a stop and the many voices of reason start speaking at that moment – then all I see are my kids and wife.

    I know this feeling and it is so important to respect it. Esp important when mountaineering, in my opinion.

  12. Very sad. I don’t know how many motos are actually in a race, but I’m certain there could be fewer. I would certainly take less coverage of a race for sure, the helicopter shots are great if there isn’t a moto in position for a good picture. The Pros should always be protected before anything. If they touch wheels or take a corner wrong that’s racing and that’s on them, but there’s no reason for these guys to be getting tagged by motos and cars. Sad time for our sport gents, sad time.

  13. The senseless tragedy that particularly struck me was the terrible accident that resulted in Amy Dombroski’s untimely death. And that was the first time I’d posted here. Young, healthy, strong individuals doing what they love; training in Amy’s case and racing in Antoine case, and death is result? It’s just hard to put in words, at least for me, how best to describe these circumstances. I hate it. Accidents do not need to happen. That is a fact. Make no mistake about that. Even “freak” accidents like this one involving the moto. They simply do not need to happen. And can be prevented if the will and desire were there. I sure appreciate Marcel Kittle’s thoughts expressed on the issue.

  14. The scary thing is how little experience & certification they need before getting behind the wheel/bars of a support vehicle. A one day UCI course is the minimum mandated training according to this article from Neal Rogers.

    http://cyclingtips.com/2016/03/commentary-gent-wevelgem-fatality-a-tragedy-that-has-been-a-long-time-coming/

    A month ago I’d spoken with Jason Jenkins of Media Motos, a 15-year veteran race moto pilot, who told me he felt more needed to be done to license and certify anyone and everyone allowed behind the wheel at a professional bike race.

    “The UCI needs to do something, and it doesn’t look like they are,” he’d told me. “It infuriates me, that you can go to a course run by UCI just before a WorldTour event, with no experience of pro cycle racing, do your daylong course, and come away with a certificate that entitles you to ride in WorldTour event. Shouldn’t it be competency led? They should require a resume, references — something more stringent than just a daylong course. There needs to be some sort of metric by the UCI to acknowledge guys who have done this, for a long time, safely.

    “You see these clips on the internet, and I feel sorry for the rider, but I also feel sorry for the pilot that made him crash,” Jenkins said. “Nobody wants that. No one sets out to cause an incident. My worry is, what is it going to take to do something about it?”

    Given that pro cyclists are the reason for the events themselves, I asked Jenkins — should every incident ultimately be considered the moto driver’s fault, no matter the situation?

    “It’s the cyclists’ field of play, “ he said. “Every moto is a guest in their field of play.”

  15. Not a good weekend for cycling…Daan Myngheer has also died as a result of the heart attack he suffered after stage 1 of the Criterium International.

    http://cyclingtips.com/2016/03/belgian-rider-daan-myngheer-dies-after-criterium-international-heart-attack/

  16. Very very sad. I’ve driven a team car in a UCI race, Ladies tour this year in Adelaide. The requirement to be able to be the driver was that I hold a current race licence (and drivers licence of course) and attend the drivers briefing, that’s it. I’ve got to say it was a nerve wracking experience. Cars coming and going, motorbikes, police bikes leapfrogging ahead to the next cross road, dropped riders coming back, moving back up. then driving forward when required to hand out drinks. Trying to get as close to the peloton as possible, match speed with the rider, hand off the drink, not run over all the other riders coming and going or hit another car, I was exhausted after the race!

    The number of moto in those races seems ridiculous and really needs to be cut down, far too many photographers.

  17. Two pro cyclist deaths in as many days. My dearest sympathies to the Demoitie and Myngheer families.

    As far as vehicles in the peloton, I think there are only three moto cameras. The commissaire and neutral service vehicles make sense. It’s the still photographer cameras and reporters shouting into a GoPro to the studio (something I saw for the first time during Sporza’s coverage on Sunday) and the myriad of lone riders that serve apparently nothing.

    I’m really upset at the UCI for not looking into this last year, when Sagan got forcibly unmounted twice during the Tour (or the Vuelta, I forget which it was), and before this tragedy took place.

    I don’t want to politicise the issue. But equally I don’t think any of us want this to happen again.

    Stay safe out there, brothers and sisters!

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