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David L. Stanley
Memo: 2021 Giro d'Italia rest day number one
Topic: Rider safety

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page.

His Latest work is voicing and producing the audiobook versions of Bill & Carol McGann's "The Story of the Tour de France". The second volume just went live.

You can get all three versions of "The Story of the Tour de France" volume two print, eBook and Audiobook here.

And if you'd like to start at the beginning (a very good place to start), here's "The Story of the Tour de France" volume one.


TO: General Factotum Bill McGann, Bike Race Info.com
FROM: David L. Stanley, writer-at-large
DATE: Giro d’Italia 2021, Rest day number one
TOPIC: Rider safety.

Bill,
I know we don’t have pull with the UCI and Grand Tour organizers, but rider safety has to move to the top of the priority list, don’t you think? The blazers have treated the riders like disposable parts since Henri Desgrange sent them on their way on July 1, 1903. Now is the time, before another rider is run over or knocked into a fence, or worse, a rider dies an avoidable death, that changes be made.

You and I raced a lot of races for a long time. We know the sport is dangerous. Every time we raced a criterium, we made a call that certain risks were acceptable. Someone catches a pedal, rolls a tire, makes a switch across the road or overlaps a wheel, there’s a good chance someone’s going down. Fair enough. Those are ‘internal dangers’: the inherent risks of balancing on a couple square inches of Vittoria CX rubber.

Pierre Rolland\

Note from Chairman Bill: I just did a quick search of my library of photos using the word "crash". Here's the first one that came up, Pierre Rolland after stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France. My computer is full of these heartbreaking pictures that were sent to me simply as part of a day's racing. Sirotti photo

What we’re seeing in this Giro d’Italia is a combination of ignorance, callousness, and “We’ve always done it this way” thinking. If this memo leaks out, and people doubt me, maybe they’ll listen to Iljo Keisse (Deceuninck-Quick Step), the world’s most accomplished 6-Day racer. He knows something about the madness of the peloton, eh?

"I'll tell it like it is: the last two sprint stages in this Giro have been a complete disaster. On the way to Termoli [stage seven] we rode all day on relatively wide roads until it all changed in the last 10km. Narrow roads, islands of traffic in the middle of the road, roundabouts that are closed on one side and six bends in the last 1.5km. Wednesday's ride to Cattolica was even worse. Actually it's not to be laughed about. The peloton is passing on the complaints to the CPA union; they are our voice in the safety debate. As a squad, we have to count our blessings. Everyone came out of that hectic first week more or less unscathed. Pieter Serry was rear-ended by a Team BikeExchange chase car, but not bad.” 

Not bad, Iljo says. Dude got rear-ended by a car. He’s alive, I guess that’s not bad.

I’ve got a couple of ideas. What do you think?

ONE) Sprint stripes. When the GTs visit old city centers, the roads are crazy; they twist and turn, double back on themselves, widen and narrow, all the result of 2400 years (Perugia is first mentioned in literature in 300 BC, I had to google that) of ‘long term city growth and planning.’ If it is not possible, in an old town, to arrange a sprint finish that is relatively straight for the last 2 km, I propose painting sprint stripes on the road, let’s say 3 meters apart,  like lanes on a running track, from the 2 km mark. We could at least start at the red kite. The stripes should follow the contours of the road so that riders have easily noted visual markers to follow.

You’re leading the train, going 56 kph after 180 km of racing, head down, giving it all for your team, you shouldn’t have to look around to figure out if you’re leading your sprinter to victory or the hospital. Road markings are slippery in the rain, some will say? I’ll bet there is a non-slip paint out there, probably more expensive, so get the paint company on-board as the official Sprint Stripe Sponsor of Giro 2022. Heck, paint every sprint finish with the stripes, and make them the co-sponsor of the sprinter’s jersey.

TWO) Road Furniture. I’ve been watching the grand tours since the middle 1980s, and the explosion of permanently embedded road furniture over the last 20 years is mind-boggling, isn’t it? Riders come screaming around a corner, and bam, right in their faces are a series of 4 foot tall signs and bollards which mark a bus stop. Maybe the first 20–30 riders see them, but since all that stuff is the same height as a rider on his bike, the rest of the peloton is at the mercy of the riders ahead sending out an SOS.

Get a pallet’s worth of semi-rigid plastic tubes, about 30 mm in diameter and 3 meters long, I’m thinking like alpine skiing slalom gates here, with a big flag or giant fluorescent or reflective ball at the top and zip-tie those poles to every damned thing that sticks up out of the ground on the parcours. Again, an easy sell to advertisers for that space at the top of the pole. Who’ll put them up and take them down? Add a couple of folks to the team that stages each day’s stage.

THREE) Flashing portable signage. Roads narrow and widen and swoop around 120 degree turns for no apparent reason in old European towns, right? In an attempt to assist drivers in those same towns, roundabouts have sprouted like dandelions on the first sunny day in May. It’s wacky enough when you’re driving. It’s potentially tragic on a bike at 50 kph in the midst of 175 of your closest friends. I’ve got the answer.

Bill, you know those big, flashing programmable signs that sit on truckbeds on the freeways just before a construction zone that tell us we’ll sit in traffic for the next 3.5 miles? The race organization gets about a dozen of them. A km or two before the road narrows, the riders see a giant sign at the roadside that says “ROAD NARROWS–2 KM.”

You could use them at roundabouts, too. You spread these out across all the pain points. As soon as the peloton passes, the truck leapfrogs ahead to the next spot. You have these twelve trucks leapfrogging the course; it’ll keep the riders and teams apprised. It’ll build anticipation among the spectators. What goes across the top of the sign and covers the back of the sign? You got it: "GRAINGER—Official safety and warning system supplier to the Giro d’Italia!"

FOUR) Professional drivers. Just because someone was able to race a bike fast when they were younger, and can impart that knowledge now that they’re older, in no way does that qualify them to drive a car in the madness that is the peloton and caravan. Especially while they’re listening to the Giro/Tour/Vuelta radio, watching the TV feed, talking to their riders, calculating speeds and distances and manpower and tactics, watching for riders filtering backwards and forwards through the caravan, keeping an eye out for riders on the team with mechanicals, handing up bottles and gels, and in general, doing the job that a DS is supposed to do.

The solution is a no-brainer. So simple, I can’t believe it was not instituted sometime in the 1960s.

Train and hire a pool of independent, professional drivers. It’s brilliant, Bill, don’t you think? Your Italian is good; let’s ring up the folks at the Ferrari Corso Pilota Driving School, ask them to put together a training course specific to the needs of caravan driving, and while you’re at it, ask for Piero Ferrari, get him on board as the sponsor: "FERRARI—Official driving instructor of the Grand Tour pelotons".

I’m saying this again. A Director Sportif should never drive a car in the caravan. Never. The DS should be doing the job of a DS—directing the team. That should be the sole focus of the DS.

No more amateur drivers.

At the lower levels of the sport, where the economics make a pool of fulltime pro drivers difficult, we mandate that a member of the team attend the driving school. In addition, that team member’s sole job is driving. Not an assistant DS, not a mechanic. Perhaps a soigneur, I’m not sure.

The details, yeah, they would need to be properly sorted. Think this through with me, Bill, as we get ready to pitch the blazers.

“You are entrusted with a 1,500 kg vehicle. Your one job? Pilot said vehicle safely in the midst of 40 other four wheeled vehicles and 80 motorcycles. What’s the importance of this job? 180 highly valuable bike racers who weigh about 75 kgs each (bikes included) are duking it out at 50 kph. Not easy. When you’re distracted, near-impossible. You have one job, people. Safe driving.”

Here’s a list, just as they pop into my head, Bill:
Pieter Serry. Johnny Hoogerland. Juan-Antonio Flecha. Davis Phinney.
Jesper Skibby. Stig Broeckx. Jakob Fuglsang. Greg van Avermaet.
Jesse Sergeant. Sebastian Chavanel.

Bill? I didn’t have to google any of these; just incidents that popped into my head as I was writing this memo. You probably have plenty more.

I did a little research, mio amico. A wrongful death suit involving a truck crash in which the man in the automobile died cost the trucking firm $34,000,000 US. The implementation of my proposal will not cost that much, eh?

Hey Blazers!!! The riders matter. No riders? No races. No races, then you have to turn in your blazers and go get regular jobs.

Here’s the dirty truth none of you want to admit:

Rider safety is JOB ONE.

What do you think, Bill, can we do this? 


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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