Padding to be installed on Tour descent amid growing safety concerns

BILBAO, Spain : Tour de France organisers will install padding on the trickiest section of the descent from the Col de la Loze on the 17th stage as part of a global effort to improve riders’ safety following the death of Gino Mader.

The decision to use padding was made before Swiss rider Mader died in a high-speed crash in a descent at the Tour de Suisse this month.

“We will install Alpine skiing padding in the descent from the Col de la Loze, on the trickiest part,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told a news conference on Friday on the eve of the opening stage in Bilbao.

After his death, Tour organisers decided, in agreement with the rider’s family and his Bahrain Victorious team, to pull bib number 61 from a race that will be highly scrutinised.

On Friday, the International Cycling Union (UCI), the Association of race organisers, the riders’ union and the teams’ association announced the creation of a body designed to improve the riders’ safety.

The body, called ‘safeR’, will not be functional before 2025 and funding has yet to be set up but all participants hailed an unprecedented effort to “sit together at the same table and work together.”

Prudhomme added that some 130km of roads had been renovated in the Alpine local government department of Haute Savoie, 2.5 of them in the fast descent from the Col de Joux Plane.

“The Haute Savoie is rich, it’s not the case of all of them,” he said, adding Tour organisers had identified 5,300 potentially dangerous spots on the 3,400km of the route.

“Every six or seven years, the amount of road furniture doubles, it’s hard to adjust to that,” Prudhomme said.

UCI president David Lappartient also noted that roads were now designed for speeds up to 30kph in France, while a Tour peloton enter towns at 60 to 70kph ahead of a bunch sprint.

Former rider Michael Rogers, now the head of innovation at the UCI, also said that “42 per cent of the incidents happen in the last 20km of a stage”.

Cycling, however, is in essence a risky sport and no major changes are expected in the way races are designed.

“We are not going to ban the final descent in stages,” Lappartient said. “If we ban the last descent, why not ban the descent in the middle of the race? This is not racing.”

“Cycling is a magnificent, but cruel sport,” Prudhomme added.

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