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Crashes were once again a talking point during the 2016 road racing season, with many calling for new rules to ease the tension inside the peloton for safer racing conditions.
Simon Gerrans of Orica – BikeExchange has been on the front row of more than a few high-profile crashes that have hampered his performances dating back to the 2014 Tour de France. The winner of Milano-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège points to the increasing infrastructure on European roads as a major culprit behind the apparent uptick in crashes in the peloton.
“There is a combination of a few things [causing crashes], and I am for anything that is going to make the sport safer,” Gerrans said. “As far as more crashes, there is a heck of a lot more road furniture than there was 10 years ago. There is so much more infrastructure trying to slow traffic down, it creates obstacles for us, and it makes it more dangerous. There are more things to hit, and more reason to be at the front to avoid those crashes.”
During this year’s Tour de France, sprinters were complaining that GC riders were “getting in the way” in the final kilometers on the flatter stages. GC riders are loath to lose seconds if the peloton splits, and everyone, from sprinters to GC contenders to helpers, are all fighting to “be at the front.”
Gerrans suggested one way to take the air out of the tension for the sprint stages would be to move the “safe zone” back to 5km to go and take the time at 3km to go, and then give the sprinters room to wind up their trains. Rules now say that a rider will not lose time if they suffer a mechanical or crash within the closing 3km of a flat stage, but seconds are counted if there is a split at the finish line.
“They can do some stuff, like the 3km rule, and move it to 5km, and take time to 3km to go,” Gerrans suggested. “It’s easy to stay in close contact with the peloton, but in the final 3km to go, when those leadout trains start and the lesser experienced guys in the sprint are trying to stay up front to avoid losing time if it splits, that’s when it gets a bit hectic.”
Gerrans also said the general tendency to “be at the front” at all times of a race, coupled with the increasing presence of road furniture, has made every race a game of Russian roulette.
“There are directors on the radio saying stay at the front,” Gerrans said. “It’s made the racing so much more dangerous. Going through any town, whether it’s at the stage finish or middle or start, there are a heck of a lot of nervous guys in the bunch. It’s the way the roads have evolved that’s made it a lot more difficult for us.”
He also said cycling’s powers that be should embrace new ideas for safety and the inclusion of shorter, more dynamic stages that are a fixture in the Vuelta a España and spreading to other races.
“Often you hear in cycling that we do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. For me, that’s not a great reasoning to do things,” he said. “These short [Vuelta] stages are more exciting to watch. It’s like going to a movie, and it’s all over in a couple of hours, and you’ve seen it all from beginning to end in a short period of time.”
For 2017, Gerrans is hoping for a clean and injury-free run so he can return to form following three seasons of physical setbacks and costly crashes.
The veteran Australian has missed out on some of his biggest goals in the wake of a string of injuries dating back to the 2014 Tour de France. That year, he crashed out after hitting the deck heavily in the opening-stage spill involving Mark Cavendish. 2015 was even worse, with Gerrans suffering three broken bones across the season and missing out on a win for the first time since 2010. In 2016, he crashed out of the Tour with a broken collarbone, which also took him out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“After all the setbacks I’ve had, I always give myself a break [in the off-season] to set the focus on next year,” Gerrans said. “I’ve always got one eye on the next objective. The first big goal of the season is to defend the Tour Down Under.”
The 36-year-old is going into a contract year with Orica and wants nothing more than to be healthy and race.