The column: Save our cyclists

What do the following riders have in common? Alessandro De Marchi, Mikel Landa, Elie Gesbert, Mathias Norsgaard, Lauren Dolan.

If you guessed that they comprise the top five for the Box Hill Strava KOM competition, I’m afraid you’re plum out of luck. If, however, you happened to know that all have, in the past year, experienced comings together with cars while out training, to varying degrees of injury, you’re the winner of a mystery star prize. Collect from the Rouleur office, yeah?

Whether or not it’s statistically more common than it used to be, it certainly seems that road traffic accidents involving the pros have increased in frequency in recent years. Fortunately most have come away with no worse than a broken collarbone, though we are approaching the third anniversary of the death of Michele Scarponi, killed by a driver while riding near his home in Filottrano. 

It might just be that the growth of social media has made it easier for the pros to publicise these experiences, while a decline in journalistic standards (not us, obviously) has caused the stories to spread further.

Alessandro De Marchi

Some of you will have seen the footage of a supermarket delivery driver this week – name and shame time: a Tesco delivery driver – overtaking a person on a bike before almost immediately turning left across him. The conciliatory, magnanimous response would be a zen-ish hashtag sharetheroad. While yes, “don’t do stupid s…tuff” is never bad advice, the suggestion, put forth not just by drivers but frequently espoused by cyclists (many of whom will also obviously be drivers) as well, is that no side is blameless and why can’t we all just get along?

Alessandro De Marchi would, we suspect, respectfully disagree.

In November last year, the CCC rider was out riding near his hometown of Buja when he was close-passed by the driver of an Audi A6. Seriously shaken up by the experience, the Italian posted a passionate diatribe on Instagram aimed at this particular individual and motorists in general.

“I am fed up, literally fed up and on edge,” De Marchi’s post began. “I still have a sore throat from too much screaming and railing against yet another motorist during yet another ‘near accident’ in which I was involved today. I cannot handle it anymore.” 

“Dear ignorant motorist” he concluded, “today, with your beautiful metallic grey Audi A6, you almost killed me… to get to the newsstand first! Dear ignorant motorist I hate you wholeheartedly and I hope you read these lines or that someone remembering your car thinks of you and shows them to you.”

Mikel Landa
Mikel Landa – the victim of a hit-and-run in Spain at the start of the year

How many of us can relate to those sentiments? How many have arrived at their intended destination, physically shaken by a close call of our own? One which could easily have been so much worse had we ourselves been paying as little attention as the driver in question? It serves as another reminder of not only how unlike other sports cycling is – conducted on open roads, not in training grounds or stadia – but also of how closely aligned the amateur and professional sides are.

In the cities and suburbia, where cycling is a mode of transport, physically segregated spaces are what’s required, nothing less. It’s perfectly doable. 

And it is happening, in places like London at least, where the Mayor manages a budget that is not entirely beholden to central government intransigence. But progress is still slow and the resistance is strong. What’s more, such barriers do little for those of us who cycle for sport, outside urban areas, on small country roads where many of us have come close to catastrophe, or worse. 

Read: Pedro Horrillo – the crash

That’s where legal instruments are what’s required. It’s often said that “if you want to kill someone, do it with a car.” From failing to indicate to heedlessly opening car doors to using mobile phones at the wheel, disincentives to drive dangerously are either inadequate or non-existent. Insufficient resources go into apprehending those who use their vehicles in a dangerous way – whether deliberately or carelessly the result is often the same. In the rare event offenders are caught, prosecuted and convicted, the punishments are decidedly lacking in the teeth necessary to deter others from doing the same. The delivery driver referred to above received six points on his licence and a £300 fine.

It has long puzzled me why professional riders and the cycling industry have not engaged more with broader campaigns for better infrastructure and stronger laws to protect people on bikes from people in cars and larger vehicles. The former group would benefit as much as the rest of us from a safer environment; the latter would, presumably, welcome the creation of more customers to whom they could sell more of their stuff.  It’s surely one area where we really are all in this together.


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