Thrills, Spills and Bellyaches

Without a doubt this has been one of the least predictable openings to a Tour de France for a while. Without a prologue time trial there have been no days in yellow for Fabian Cancellara and with the “flat” stages almost all having a sting in their tale the sprinters have been denied their usual high-speed processions to the line. True, Mark Cavendish won a hard fought sprint without the HTC train on Stage 5 but we have also seen stage wins for the King of this year’s Classics, Phillipe Gilbert and would you believe it a win in week one for Cadel Evans ahead of Alberto Contador. The week has also seen its fair share of crashes with some teams and riders coming off worse than others. Contador has hit the deck several times along with Robert Gesink of Rabobank (According to his Rabobank team, Gesink was “involuntarily acquainted with the asphalt”‘ What a poetic way of putting it). Both Quickstep and Radioshack appear to have had all riders hit the tarmac in the opening days. Today has seen a perhaps unprecedented withdrawal of big names with the loss of Tom Boonen, Chris Horner and our own Bradley Wiggins as a result of injuries sustained in these spills. And the parcours has been the subject of debate and criticism all week. Watching yesterday’s action on Eurosport we witnessed the moans of Andy Schleck that the roads of Brittany have been too narrow and twisting for a race like the Tour de France. I’m sorry Andy, but these are the roads you have to play on. They are closed and they are safer than most of us on our commutes to work or training ride on a Sunday. Following Wiggin’s abandon today, teammate Michael Barry tweeted:

“Terrible watching the Tour today. Sad for Wiggo–heartbreaking after all the work and sacrifice. Change is needed to improve rider safety.”

Such as Michael? I know we’ve had a rude awakening in the last few months about the dangers of professional cycling but as the saying goes, stuff happens. The oft cited cause of accidents is road furniture and unfortunately the need for it is the result of road traffic and a need to protect no vehicle based road users. But as I have indicated previously the riders in professional cycling need to take some responsibility. Professional cyclists are better looked after now that 20 or 30 years ago. Whilst in some respects this has aided the sport’s development, increasingly it is becoming for some a bubble in which they feel they should be immune from misfortune and day-to-day risk. Listening to the commentary on both Eurosport and ITV the point is made that the best place to ride is at the front. Unfortunately 198 riders will not fit across a road and so some people cannot be on the front. This means you must have your wits about you. This means you have to take some responsibility.

Of course, accidents happen and ultimately there is nothing you can do to prevent them. Ging back to Brad’s fall it happened on a wide, straight road. How rider safety can be improved in this instance is hard to fathom. As MrsAB said to me, maybe Twitter is to blame with its facilitation of quick reactions which have not been properly thought through. It was nice to see Wiggin’s teammate Geraint Thomas tweet the same thoughts I have articulated here:

All this talk of rider safety… It comes down to us riders!! There are some right muppets in the peloton, even some GC riders!!

It is not my place to speculate about the muppets but I have some ideas.

All in all, this is bike racing. Yes the first week has been great, yes it has been edgy in many respects and yes we’ve had our fair share of bellyaches (not including Cancellara’s dodgy tum). But I’ll leave the final words to former British pro (and one of my heroes) Steve Joughin:

“Gutted that Brad is out !! real shit, but that’s bike racing for ya”

So true Steve, so true in every way.

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