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Are rider ‘lanes’ the future of bunch sprints?

Multiple track world champion Theo Bos proposes reinvention of road sprinting rules as UCI prepares to reveal new safety measures.

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“Sprint lanes” are front and center of a radical reinvention of bunch sprints outlined by multiple world track champion Theo Bos.

Bos, a five-time track champ and former road sprinter, made a series of suggestions that lean on regulations used in the velodrome’s keirin event. Bos’s suggestions focus on the use of “lanes” to guide riders’ sprint lines, the prohibition of riders diving up the inside of the barriers, and the improvement of race fencing.

Lanes would be marked on the road in the final 300 meters of a sprinter stage to prevent riders from launching potentially dangerous, wayward moves.

“It is a lot clearer this way,” Bos told AD.nl. “It also works on the track. Every youth cyclist learns as soon as he or she competes on the track, there is rarely any [expletive deleted].”

Bos believes the use of marked out sprinter boxes and lanes in the final 300 meters of a stage would simplify commissaries decisions and provide riders a guide to follow in the mayhem of a fast finish.

“If you are at the head of the peloton at three hundred meters in the sprinters’ section, you stay there,” Bos explained. “Getting out means relegation. If you overtake riders from behind, you are allowed to leave the box, otherwise, you cannot pass it.”

The measures suggested by the Dutch veteran come at the close of a season stacked with sprint controversies.

Almost as soon as racing resumed this summer, Fabio Jakobsen was left seriously injured in a high-speed crash at the Tour of Poland. In the following months, Peter Sagan was relegated for barging at the Tour de France, Sam Bennett was sanctioned for a similar offense at the Vuelta a España, and Jolien d’Hoore was relegated for a dangerous sprint at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. And the list goes on.

Bos’s suggestions Wednesday come the very day that the UCI revealed it was preparing to outline a series of new safety measures for road races, with a focus on course signage and barriers, race vehicles, and rider etiquette.

UCI jury member Joey Ermens applauded Bos’ proactive proposal. However, Ermens suggested that race safety is the responsibility of riders and teams, as well as race organizers and governing bodies.

“I think Theo makes a good point with regard to the last 300 meters straight ahead,” Ermens said. “In my opinion, this is the task of the teams to train their riders, from an early age. But I think it is certainly good to test this. I myself notice that the current, existing road markings can help in a sprint to assess whether someone else has been hindered or endangered.”

The UCI’s new plans for race safety have been the product of a season-long collaboration between representatives from teams, race organizers, and the riders’ group, the CPA. The measures and are to be presented for approval by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) next week for a roll out in January 2021.

For Bos, there’s nothing to lose in experimenting with new measures such as sprint lanes.

“I would welcome it if races on the road dare to experiment with it. See how it goes, polish it if necessary. But it is better with lines than without,” he told AD.nl. “If it works on the track, why wouldn’t it work on the road?”

Bos’ six-point plan

  • No deviation from a sprint line.
  • Double barriers or extra height barrier to prevent fans from leaning over.
  • Barriers run diagonally upwards, without protruding legs.
  • Sprinter’s “boxes” indicated by lines in the final 300 meters of the road that riders cannot deviate from.
  • No moving up on inside line between a rider and the barriers.
  • A central line in the middle of the road to serve as a reference point.