Tragedy at Belgian cycle race
There was a tragic accident at the Belgian bike race Gent-Wevelgem yesterday, where young rider Antoine Demoitié of Team Wanty-Gobert (@TeamWantyGobert) died after apparently being hit by a motorcycle after a crash in the peloton. Cycling is a dangerous sport, maybe more so than casual observers realise. Not on the level of some like F1 perhaps, but more than most. Riders are travelling at 60kmph or more on hard mountain roads, with dangerous ditches or drops, or urban courses with hazards like street furniture or even dogs and people. The peloton consists of 30, 40 or more men or women riding hard and aggressively elbow to elbow. Accidents and crashes can and do happen, frequently.
Bruises and abrasions (road rash) are just accepted as par for the course and “part of the job”. Broken collarbones are fairly common, a classic cycling racing injury, but professional cyclists bounce back from these injuries… eventually.
Luckily more serious injuries are less common, but a death in the peloton is fortunately vanishingly rare. But it should never happen. To hear that it has occurred and that perhaps (and I accept I am speculating on little factual knowledge of events here) it was not the crash itself but impact with one of the many motorbikes that accompany the peloton, is distressing and part of a worrying trend fans of the sport have started to recognize over recent times. Often it seems we are hearing of riders being taken down after being clipped by motos.
We know motorcycles (and team and race official cars) are a necessary part of professional cycling. In fact the sport would not be able to exist in its modern form without it. No images, no TV, no commentary, no data, no interest, sport ceases to exist. But maybe things have got of of hand. Maybe there are too many, or they are not trained well enough, or not regulated enough, or not penalised enough when things go wrong.
(some examples of riders being brought down by cars/motos – credit @cyclinghubTV)
We mustn’t speculate about what exactly happened, but we must find out what exactly happened, and what, if anything, can be done in future to prevent similar accidents. In my line of work, like some others, when things go wrong they need to be fully investigated. The tool used is called Root Cause Analysis (RCA). This technique arose in the space and aviation industry where errors and faults have mission critical consequences, but has been widely applied since e.g. in healthcare. It’s a pain in the backside too carry out as well, as it involves a detailed and systematic look at all the events and the whole situation which led to the untoward event, seeking out the “root cause”, but perhaps more importantly looking at ALL the other potential contributory factors. Often it uncovers unpalatable factors for the people involved that have hitherto been consciously or unconsciously ignored. A series of recommendations are made where possible to design systems and change behaviour (in the case of human factors) to reduce chances of similar events being repeated. The aims of RCA are not to find blame for individuals but to find out what happened and why and prevent it happening again.
I’m not going to speculate here about what factors need to be looked at, but I implore Brian Cookson (@briancooksonUCI), President of the UCI (@UCI_cycling, the governing body of the sport) to announce such an inquiry and investigation. It’s easy for me to say, but I’ll say it it anyway: “something must be done”. #EnoughIsEnough
Rest in peace young Belgian professional cyclist Antoine Demoitié (1990-2016).