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Kittel Responds to Tragedy

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Mar 28, 2016 – On Sunday, Beglian cyclist Antoine Demoitie was involved in a serious accident, he was struck by a motor bike, and later died in hospital. Over the past several hours, many riders have taken to the issue of rider safety and it’s importance. On his Facebook page, Marcel Kittel responded to the tragedy.

peloton/Marcel Kittel/Yuzuru Sunada

Kittel: “With the death of Antoine Demoitie we reached a new and very sad lowpoint in the history of cycling and safety. Many people say it´s part of our job to take risk and that crashes are part of this sport. And I agree. But not completely. Every rider that gets injured, because of a crash that he is not responsible for, is one too much. There is a difference between riders crashing in the last hectic kilometers of a race, fighting for the right wheel before the sprint and riders crashing because of unsafe road furniture, reckless driving of motorbikes or cars, extreme weather conditions and unsafe race routes.

When the peloton goes into a final or passes a crucial, race deciding point of a race, then every rider knows that it is potentially dangerous. We brake late before the last important corner, we fight for wheels, don´t hesitate to go into a gap that might be too small, we even push each other away to hold or get a better position in the bunch – all that at highspeed and not only our own physical and mental limit, but also at the limit of our tires and brakes. That risk is calculated and, I don´t want to lie here, also one of the reasons why I love cycling.

There is this action going on and it´s a real fight for the win! It makes you proud when you win a race, come back to the bus and you talk with your team mates about how good it worked, how well you defended or conquered the position in the final that brought you the win in the end. And you start to talk about those dangerous moments where you almost crashed but somehow you avoided the pile up in front of you or you got you bike straight again after you almost lost it in a corner. The moments of adrenaline, the rush of speed and the victory as reward afterwards are one of the components that make our sport so interesting.

But in the last years it became more and more obvious that cycling has an increasing problem with safety. Here a little reminder from the last 2 seasons: Greg van Avermaet (San Sebastian), Peter Sagan (Tour of Spain), Taylor Phinney (US Nationals), Stig Broeckx (Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne), Jesse Sergent (Tour of Flanders) and Jakob Fuglsang (Tour de France) have been all involved in crash with a motorbike or neutral car. Peter Stetina (Vuelta Pais Vasco), Tom Boonen (Tour of Abu Dhabi) or Matt Brammeier (Tour of Utah) crashed because of an unsafe race route.

Many of them ended up in hospital with heavy, career influencing injuries and had a long, painful rehabilitation ahead of them. But the crashes also influenced the outcome of the race – something that is not in the interest of anyone. Not the teams, organizer, sponsors, media and the cycling fan at home. And think about it: there are no winners in those situations. The rider is hurt. The car driver or motorbike rider has this lifelong burden of having injured a rider or worse. The races don´t get a result that comes purely down to physical and tactical strength. Cycling as sport but also as means of transportation for everyone will be associated with such tragic events.

It´s clear: Cycling´s biggest problem was doping and still has to be fought. But the safety issues that are obvious, should get the same attention and priority as the fight for clean sport. Not only because lives can be lost but also because there wasn´t done much until now. Last major change was the Extreme Weather Protocol that was introduced this year. And before that, and only after the death of Andrei Kivilev, the UCI made helmets compulsory in 2003.

But from that year till now cycling has made also a tremendous change. The globalization of cycling created many new races in countries around the world and the fight against doping shifted the focus of improvement more to a focus on training, equipment and nutrition. Riders train harder, are more efficient and look for every improvement that is possible. We get the best support from our teams to be better and faster, our bike sponsors are striving for faster and lighter bikes, we are doing aerodynamic tests to be 0.5 seconds quicker over 10 kilometers, electronic shifting help us to shift faster and since 2016 we are allowed to ride on disc brakes so we can brake later. That all leads to a situation where the peloton rides faster and takes more risk. Pressure is on everyone to perform and be in front.

It´s part of this evolution process in modern cycling to improve not only the rider and bike but also the race course where the peloton is racing on. It´s necessary to set higher and better standards for professional bike races and that´s not up to the riders but to the organizers and the UCI. It´s easy to say that the riders are doing the race and therefore have the responsibility for it.

But it´s simply not true.

There are so many things in a race that are beyond the control of a rider: dangerous finishes, all the other vehicles that follow the race, spectators and weather for example. The riders are busy enough with concentrating on the race and need to trust organizers and the rules that they will be guided safely by experienced people on carefully chosen roads.

We need to work together to keep this sport safe and give sense to the tragic accident of Antoine Demoitie. It would be great if we can see some major changes and development out of a discussion over safety. We need to start talking openly about it now. That´s what I expect from my governing body and rider association. For starters it would be good to see more experienced, well trained drivers in cars and on motorbikes, a yearly statistic that keeps track of crashes in races in order to see a positive or negative development and more signs/flashing lights that indicate sharp corners or dangerous points.

Tomorrow at the start of the 3 Days of De Panne we will mourn the loss of Antoine and pay respect to him, his family and team after this horrible accident. We owe it to Antoine that we do everything to let that never happen again.”

We extend our thoughts to the friends, family and team of Antoine Demoitie.