Cycling’s world governing body has come under fire for not doing more to protect riders in the wake of the horrific crash which overshadowed the first stage of the Tour of Poland on Wednesday, leaving one young rider in a coma.
Former rider Sean Yates was among a host of current or former professionals to criticise the UCI, saying it was “a scandal” that the issue of safety was not taken more seriously.
Fabio Jakobsen, a 23 year-old Deceuninck-Quick Step rider, was placed in an induced coma and underwent facial surgery lasting five and a half hours after he was sent flying over the barriers by fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen on a fast downhill finish in Katowice.
Jakobsen’s team said on Thursday that initial tests “didn’t reveal brain or spinal injury", describing his condition as stable.
In the initial aftermath of Wednesday’s crash, much of the anger was directed towards Groenewegen. Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere went so far as to suggest that the Jumbo-Visma rider should be jailed for his manoeuvre.
Attention soon turned to the UCI, however. Former sprinter Robbie McEwen questioned the barriers in Poland, which were sent flying across the road, taking down a number of other riders.
The move by Groenewegen was one that has been made by sprinters many times. A correct DQ. But the barrier set-up @Tour_de_Pologne was not up to standard, nor are safety standards @UCI_cycling. How about final km safety standards instead of measuring sock height?— Robbie McEwen AM (@mcewenrobbie) August 6, 2020
Others pointed to railway tracks and dangerous road furniture immediately on the other side of the barriers. Former Irish great Sean Kelly said that downhill sprints ought to be banned in general.
Yates, meanwhile, was incredulous. “How many riders have to get seriously hurt before things change?” he asked. “Over the years things have just NOT changed. It’s a scandal. The UCI are the ones responsible and they do not address this issue with any seriousness whatsoever. It’s been going on for YEARS and YEARS.”
The professional cyclists’ union the CPA - itself under fire for not pushing harder for change - has asked the UCI to open an investigation into the crash. In a letter to UCI president David Lappartient and Tour of Poland director Agata Lang, CPA president Gianni Bugno reiterated his association’s call for universal standards to be imposed for barriers at finish areas and queried the downhill finish. The CPA also said it would like to see “exemplary penalties” for riders who cause such crashes.
Groenewegen, who was disqualified for dangerous riding and suffered a broken collarbone in the incident, apologised on Thursday for endangering Jakobsen’s life.
"I can't find the words to describe how sorry I am for Fabio and the others involved,” he said. "What matters most now is Fabio's health. I think about him all the time."