Friday Group Ride #117

No one can stay on their bike at the Giro d’Italia this year. From the roll out in Denmark, it’s been bodies on the road. Mark Cavendish took stage 2 after a crash in the closing 150 meters. Theo Bos lost his front wheel and took out a slew of others. This was after Pink Jersey wearer Taylor Phinney crashed with 8kms to go, and then chased back on to save the shirt.

Stage 3 saw Matt Goss win, but the big story was behind him, where Roberto Ferrari of Androni-Giacottoli made a sudden dart to the right, taking out Cavendish, Phinney and others. It was Phinney’s second time on the ground in two days, and the toll would show on the youngster’s face in the TTT on Stage 4 where he relinquished his leader’s jersey to Ramunas Navardauskas of Garmin-Barracuda.

More bad luck for the American on Stage 5, where he was caught up behind a crash 35kms out, but fought his way back to the lined-out group.

Then it was time for Garmin-Baracuda to get theirs, as Stage 6 saw the abandonment of Tyler Farrar. Thor Hushovd and Roman Feillu got off their bikes too, though the circumstances of their exits was still unclear.

There was an interesting piece about all the pile-ups in today’s sprints on the other day, touching on some of the themes we hear regularly now. Too much speed, too little respect, the UCI’s stupid rules, all of it contributing to the chaos.

But, what do you think is going on? A year on from Wouter Weylandt’s death, how will top-level racing get safer? Or is this just how it is, a sport for tough guys and girls, willing to sacrifice skin and bone for elusive success? Is this the downside of pro-racing, or is it just part of the entertainment, sick as that may sound?

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  1. JF

    It’s the bloodsport side of cycling, and I hate it. But, I’m using the crashes by the pros to remind myself more and more to try and be safer and safer with my own riding. For example, pacelines. A single paceline of three people? Okay. Double pacelines or riding in a pack? I’m trying to stop myself from being a part of that. I don’t need to ride in big groups. I can hang off the back and get dropped by the group. It’s good training for chasing.

  2. Cptcrnch

    I think part of what we’re are seeing is due to the global economic slump we are still in. The top level of cycling has been hit hard by the recession and the doping scandals don’t help either. With fewer sponsors to go around comes fewer jobs to go around. Guys are desperate to get results to ensure they have a job for the next year. If one of the most winning teams (Highroad) couldn’t find a sponsor who’s to say what other team won’t be able to find one next year. Add a few wild card teams for whom the Giro is the biggest race exposure they’ll get all season and you have a recipe for fast dangerous riding.

  3. Chris

    Remember in the first week of last year’s TdF the talk was about all the crashing with Wiggens, Van Den Broek and Vino all making early exits… oh and Chris Horner too. At the end of the day, cycling is dangerous. Cav and Phinney know it just as you and I know it everytime we pull on our bibs and head out on to the streets. Add in a couple hundred other guys, intense competition (and fatigue) on roads they’ve never ridden before and there are bound to be some spills.

    As for the future, I’m not sure. Helmets seemed silly just 15 years ago. Will full face helmets and body armour be next. Seems unlikely, but then again, I guess that’s what you would call progress.

  4. Doug Page

    I found interesting all the talk early in the Giro about this year’s parcours, how it was “safer”. And yet it was not. A flatter, TDF type parcours beginning with sprint stages is not necessarily a solution to crashing, and IMO it makes the problem worse. Put in some climbs early..real ones, and the speeds drop. Don’t we want a Giro with a distinct personality, and not a clone of the TDF?

  5. Troutdreams

    I was also thinking back to days of Lemond, when I first noticed the professional sport. Seems rather insane now that they weren’t wearing helmets, but nor was I at the time. Now it’s blinkies, bright jerseys, and a preference for riding solo unless I’m tagging along with a retired pro (making me the likely hazard).
    Can’t imagine crashing at 35mph and getting back up to race on. Hard men.

    Somebody raised an interesting point about there being a correlation between a dwindling number of sponsors and the increase of aggressive riding. If fewer sponsors means fewer spots, are riders more apt to put themselves at risk to hold their spots? Would be a great assignment for one of the sport’s staticians to see if there are any trends. I couldn’t say if there are more crashes or just more coverage of crashes.

  6. Nick

    My favorite theories that I keep hearing are:
    A) increased general fitness across the peloton and increased field sizes over the years means that more people of more equal strength are fighting for the same space on roads that aren’t much bigger than they used to be. I think idea is that there used to be more separation among fitness and thus among the field when the hammer was down, making it safer.
    B) dramatically lower rotational weight in wheels means less centrifugal force to help riders stay upright when wheels touch or roads get greasy.

    They first could be a result of nostalgia-tinged glasses more than fact, and the second might not hold up to a physicist’s scrutiny, but I enjoy them.

  7. Tricky Dicky

    A former Belgian pro from the late 80s / early 90s who is now a DS at a WorldTour team told me he is shocked by the severity of the crashes these days. He said the crashes were always there but not to the same extent and the number of head and upper body injuries.

    He reckons it is mostly due to the lack of a hierarchy in the peloton – no patrons (such as Indurain or Hinault) and no general acceptance of “respect” for the older riders who take priority on the road, in lead-outs, sprints etc. He couldn’t explain why, say, Contador has never developed into the modern-day patron – the nearest he could think of in the current peloton is Cancellara. Interestingly, he also thought the helmets perhaps contributed to people riding more recklessly but I am not so sure about that.

    Is the modern peloton just a reflection of modern life? No respect for your elders …..

  8. scaredskinnydog

    I think its a general lack of respect thats causing the rash of gnarly crashes. Maybe if teams had bouncers waiting at the finish things would be different, “Mister Ferrari, the team Sky bouncers would like to have a word with you behind the team bus”. Seriously I don’t know what the answer is but I do think something needs to be done before someone gets permanently injured or killed. If Elia Favilli didn’t have such amazing bike handling skills Cav could have suffered a season ending injury on stage 3.

  9. Adam

    I hate seeing a pro crash. If the course is so dangerous that the best bike handlers in the world struggle to stay upright on descents than something is amiss. I don’t think it should be a part of the sport and more riders should put their hand up and protest the dangers.

    The problem though, and I have a real issue with this, is that when Cancellara effectively neutralized that stage of the 2010 Tour, he and the Schlecks took so much abuse from a certain segment of the media and blog world. Why? By all accounts the conditions were so bad that riders literally could not stay on their bikes. If we actually do care about good bike racing and not a war of attrition (I’m not thinking of PR here) then we should applaud rider actions that lead to less dangers.

    One thing that comes to mind to highlight the craziness is the suggestion that corners on the descents of last years Giro may need hay bales and safety nets to prevent riders plummeting down ravines. That’s crazy.

  10. randomactsofcycling

    I think this is just another rash of crashes that seem to come and go a couple of times in a season. The fact that the Pink Jersey wearer (also a high profile U.S. rider) and the World Champion have been involved just makes the headlines louder. If a domestique from a Conti squad had crashed in that print, we wouldn’t still be talking about it.
    Move along please. Nothing to see here.

  11. Tom

    And another crash today… It’s kind of like the Tour when Lance or Big Mig owned it. People didn’t attack but settled for leftovers. In the case of teh sprints, everyone’s going because the HTC factor was relevent. They could string the peloton out like mad and there wasn’t as much jukin and jivin going on. Not to mention, the best draft was theirs so, you waited for it..

  12. Cat4Fodder

    I agree with the theory that many of the crashes are now the result of the the lighter weight equipment, coupled with decreased braking confidence from carbon rims and more aggressive geometries playing a huge factor in the peloton’s crashes. If you can, go ride your old steel steed, and feel how much more stable it feels (slower yes, but more stable). Then get on your lightweight race bike, and you can feel the difference.

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