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UCI to address motorcycle crashes, review vehicle regulations

The laceration in Sergio Paulinho’s leg spat blood on his bike, on his shoes, dripping along an Andorran road like some gruesome crumb trail. The Vuelta a España’s mobile doctor tried to stem the bleeding while hanging out the back of a convertible, but couldn’t. That laceration, caused by a collision with a TV motorbike — a collision that was no fault of Paulinho’s — required 17 stitches and a trip to the hospital. It sent the Portuguese rider out of the race, making him the second Tinkoff-Saxo rider to exit the Vuelta after Peter Sagan was hit by a motorcycle.

Riders have long complained about dangerous motorcycle drivers, but a rash of recent incidents may have set real change in motion. Following two open letters demanding improved safety measures relating to race vehicles, one from Tinkoff-Saxo and another from BMC Racing, the UCI’s Road Commission met on Wednesday and vowed to perform a “full review of the current regulations,” including those relating to the driver conduct and licensing, prior to the 2016 season.

The Commission discussed, at length, “the security issues that have been raised during the 2015 season,” including issues related to the circulation of vehicles within a race.

No immediate action will be taken, however, though the security and safety issues are myriad.

Paulinho is the last in a long line of avoidable incidents and injuries spanning the 2015 season. Shimano’s neutral service cars hit two riders at the Ronde van Vlaanderen; a pole left standing in the middle of the road smashed Peter Stetina’s (BMC) kneecap like an egg at Tour of the Basque Country; another motorcycle hit Greg van Avermaet (BMC) at Clásica San Sebastián, knocking him into a ditch; Peter Sagan was forced to abandon the Vuelta last week after bring hit by a neutral service motorcycle. They were all avoidable incidents, all somehow not avoided.

Teams and riders are demanding change. On Wednesday, prior to Paulinho’s collision, Tinkoff–Saxo released an open letter to the UCI demanding an apology for Sagan’s incident, a donation to charity equal to the prize money Sagan could have won had he secured the green jersey competition, and a review of the regulations surrounding race vehicles.

After Paulinho was hit, Oleg Tinkoff took to Twitter, threatening to pull his team out of the Vuelta. The ASO doesn’t pay the team to enter, he said, and its motorcycles have now put two of his riders out of commission.

The Tinkoff letter came within 24 hours of a similar set of requests posted in an open letter by BMC’s general manager, Jim Ochowitz. In that letter, BMC advocates for a smaller peloton, more thorough course inspection, careful licensing of drivers, and a reduction of motor vehicles within the race convoy.

“Race personnel who drive along the race course or in the caravan have become a growing concern,” the letter says, before positing that the UCI should require proof that the drivers of race vehicles are licensed and qualified to do so.

BMC also calls for grand tours to feature only 20 teams of 9 riders each, 17 WorldTour squads plus three wildcards. Other races should be limited to 22 teams of eight riders, it says. Ochowitz has made this argument before.

The letter concludes, “The harsh reality is that until the UCI takes action, this is a problem in professional cycling that will continue to loom large.”