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Giro d'Italia

Fernando Gaviria averts disaster after barriers stay strong in Giro d’Italia sprint

Improved safety measures helped the Argentine sprinter avoid a major crash in Sunday's sprint at the Giro d'Italia.

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Fernando Gaviria hit the barriers in the finale of Sunday’s sprint stage at the Giro d’Italia, but it wasn’t a replay of the disaster that unfolded last summer at the Tour de Pologne.

Though the dynamics of the two incidents were very different, strong, well-placed barriers at the finish line in Novara helped stave off disaster for the Argentine sprinter at the Giro.

Unlike the horrific crash last summer, the fencing held Sunday, and Gaviria was able to stay upright.

“It could have been worse, and thank God we didn’t crash,” Gaviria said. “These are things that happen in a race.”

Also read: Tim Merlier wins opening sprint at 2021 Giro d’Italia

Gaviria, 26, was edged into the fences with about 175m to go by UAE-Team Emirates teammate Sebastian Molano, who inadvertently closed down his teammate on his right when he sat up from his lead-out.

Gaviria was trying to squeeze past along the fences and was forced to ease off his sprint. And though he smashed his shoulder and hand on the fencing, he did not crash and the barriers did not collapse.

No repeat of the disaster at Tour de Pologne

Fabio Jakobsen crashes during the Tour of Poland
Fabio Jakobsen crashes during the 2020 Tour of Poland Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The outcome Sunday was very different from what happened to Fabio Jakobsen at the Polish tour.

In August, race fences collapsed after Jakobsen was barged into the barriers by Dylan Groenewegen, and the Deceuninck-Quick-Step sprinter nearly died from injuries from an impact with a finish-line bollard.

Also read:

Why did the fences collapse in August, but hold up on Sunday?

There are a few important distinctions between the dramatically different outcomes.

First, speed and dynamics were dissimilar between the two incidents. Last summer, Jakobsen was sprinting at full speed on a downhill finale when Groenewegen shut down his lane, hitting speeds up to 70kph.

On Sunday, Gaviria was able to slow down and was not purposely closed down. His teammate Molano later apologized for the miscue.

“I’m really sorry for what happened today,” Molano said. “There are situations in the race that get out of hand. I always give 100 percent for my team, and we’ll keep working together to reach our goal.”

Another critical difference? The fencing held.

Again, the speed and velocity of the two incidents are wildly different. Jakobsen was carrying much more speed than Gaviria when he slammed into the barriers. The big difference, of course, was the barriers held firm Sunday.

The quality of the fencing at the Giro finale was sturdier than at Poland last summer. And there were more fans Sunday than last year. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) pointed out last week fans pressing into fencing also help the barriers stay upright.

In the wake of the Jakobsen crash and other long-simmering safety issues, UCI and race organizers worked behind the scenes over the winter to implement a series of new safety regulations.

Though rules such as the ban on the “super tuck” position or controlling refuse received more media attention, the enhanced safety regulations were on full view Sunday.

Also read: Unintended consequences of the ‘super tuck’ ban

The fencing lining Sunday’s sprint finale included a few key characteristics that helped stave off disaster. Not only did it not buckle from the impact, but the fencing was also angled back, and covered with padding and materials that created a smoother surface and covered the barrier support beams.

That meant that Gaviria, who also showed off some excellent bike-handling skills, could graze the barriers, but not be knocked back into the peloton or tangle his wheel against the base of the barriers.

Some races feature materials or the base of the barriers that actually protrude from the barriers. In 2017, when Peter Sagan was ejected from the Tour de France for closing Mark Cavendish into the fences, an important factor in seeing Cavendish’s crash made even worse was his impact with a foam sponsor sign that protruded from the padding.

The UCI added a “TV commissaire” for the 2018 race season and beyond after controversy ensued following Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the 2017 Tour de France. Photo: ©Tim De Waele | Getty Images (File).

On Sunday, Gaviria shrugged off the incident as one of the things that can happen in the high-stakes game of grand tour sprinting.

“I hit the barriers, but we have to analyze with the team what can be improved and see if the next days we can do it a lot better,” Gaviria said. “I was feeling good and we had confidence we could do a good sprint. We are happy about the fitness, and we’ll try again tomorrow.”

Gaviria can thank his world-class bike-handlings skills (and God), but the quality of the fencing along the finish line was a decisive factor, too.

NOVARA, ITALY - MAY 09: Fernando Gaviria Rendon of Colombia & Maximiliano Ariel Richeze of Argentina and UAE Team Emirates disappointment at arrival during the 104th Giro d'Italia 2021, Stage 2 a 179km stage from Stupinigi (Nichelino) to Novara / @girodiitalia / #Giro / #UCIworldtour / on May 09, 2021 in Novara, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Fernando Gaviria averted disaster in Sunday’s sprint stage at the Giro d’Italia. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images