Opinion: We need to talk about bad crashes in Irish A4 races

Posted on: August 14th, 2017

bad crashes Irish cycling A4 races

Crashes happen at every level in Irish cycling; from the Rás and elite national championships to A4 races. But it appears the risk of crashing is highest at A4 level. Cycling Ireland, and everyone involved in Irish cycling, needs to acknowledge this fact and try and find a solution.

 

How to tackle bad crashes in Irish A4 races

 

 

By Mark David Heather

I think it’s fair to say A1, A2 and A3 riders have a habit of being dismissive of A4 racing and riders.

“It’s too dangerous, it’s lethal, those guys can’t ride in a bunch, they can’t handle a bike” etcetera.

Well guess what folks, most of us started there. Sometimes in Irish cycling we are all too quick to forget that.

And it must be said that crashes can, and do, happen at all levels in Irish cycling.

I was lucky enough to have raced for years at underage and junior. So bunch riding came naturally to me when I took up the sport again in recent years.

But not everyone has that experience. And with the amount of crashes in A4 racing, the ‘learn on the road’ approach simply is not working.

Not everyone is strong enough to sit in the top 10 positions all day and stay out of trouble.

So how do we make A4 racing safer for those taking part?

Ultimately I hope these ideas will start a debate. And maybe we’ll find a way to make the introduction to racing a safer and more hospitable place.

 

Accreditation

Learn as you go doesn’t work. The IVCA and Track Cycling Ireland both insist on riders being assessed and accredited before they can compete.

Both are smaller organisations than Cycling Ireland. So there can be no excuses for not looking out for rider safety.

We need to insist that riders seeking to race for the first time attend one or more skills and assessment sessions.

These could be held in the provinces in advance of the season.  If the riders are serious about racing they could have no objection. Safety first.

 

Club Leagues

Riding in a chain gang does not equip you for riding in a race scenario. Simply being a member of a club should not qualify you to start racing.

A lot of clubs have a club league and many clubs have joined forces to create an inter club league. These leagues are held with smaller numbers than most open races.

They are a more hospitable environment for new riders looking to learn.

Is competing in a club league for two or three months a possible prerequisite for commencing open racing?

Maybe it could be a route to bypassing accreditation; a form of accreditation in itself?

 

Race Distance, Route, Finish

There is definitely a case to be made that some races are too short. It means riders who don’t have the experience in a race situation are mixing it at the finish.

That’s a dangerous position for an inexperienced rider to be in.

Whether longer races would eliminate this is unknown. But it is worthy of discussion

Furthermore, short races with long, flat and fast run-ins provide no opportunity to break down the race.

It means a large number of riders, many of whom may be inexperienced, are contesting a very fast finish.

Races that provide challenging finishes at the end of a flat and/or fast course tend to provide an element of safety at the finish.

The Kilmessan GP at the weekend, for example, features a short sharp climb on the run in towards the finish.

The Dunsany GP has a 300m uphill sprint. The Waller Cup in Bohermeen provides an undulating course with another 300m sprint drag. However, none of this will solve mid race incidents.

 

Bunch size

A4 bunch sizes, especially at the start of the year, are astonishing. There are in excess of 100 riders in one pack.

We all hear the briefing “keep inside the white line”. But that’s not possible.

If it were possible, more people would be disqualified. Cycling Ireland must recognise this as I’ve never been in a race and heard of someone being disqualified.

Rounding a blind bend on the wrong side of the road can only serve to achieve two things:

  • Scare the cyclists and potentially cause a bad incident
  • Scare the motorist and further damage the relationship between cyclists and motorists

Most of the races in Ulster cap their entry numbers and insist on pre entry. Why do the other provinces not follow suit?

And why does Cycling Ireland not insist on the same and cap the race numbers for A4, if not all categories?

 

Handicapped Races

I think this format is unfair to A4 riders and increases the danger for other riders.

Even in the pro peloton, we see riders moving back through the bunch being clipped by faster riders moving up.

This makes handicapped races more dangerous as A1, A2 and A3 riders try to filter through an A4 bunch.

When groups merged, the bunch has often quadrupled in size. But the road is the same country lane it was 30 seconds earlier.

It’s square peg, round hole stuff. Again this format is handled better by other organisations and in club leagues. So why is it not examined in Cycling Ireland events?

My ultimate goal in every race is to get home to my wife and daughter and go out for a pizza. If I finish on the podium or am even lucky enough to get a win, that’s fantastic.

But it’s not worth missing the pizza because I’m in bits. Safety first folks.

  • Mark David Heather is an Irish racing cyclist. He made a comeback recently after many years away from the sport. He began this season as an A4 and after wins at A4 and A3 level has been promoted to A2.

 

 

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