Big Biking Issues

What are the biggest talking points in cycling today? Are there issues which affect all cycling disciplines, all over the globe? Read on if you want to find out.

Le Doping

In 1967, during the 54th Tour de France, British cyclist Tom Simpson collapsed on the slopes of Mont Ventoux and died. His shocking death was put down to exhaustion, but the post-mortem revealed that Simpson had taken a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol, which had proved fatal when combined with extreme heat and exertion. This was one of the first examples of the use of performance-enhancing substances by cyclists. Sadly, it’s a practice that has grown more and more common (or at least detection is more common) among professional and amateur cyclists. It’s an issue which some say is ripping the sport apart, and sanctions are becoming increasingly severe to try and stamp it out. The anti-doping regulations of the UCI run to 25,000 words – an indication of the complexity and seriousness of the subject.

Major doping scandals in the world of cycling:

  • 1998 – The entire Festina team was disqualified from the Tour de France after performance-enhancing substances were discovered. In solidarity and protest, six other teams abandoned the Tour.
  • 2004 – The cycling year was overshadowed by the death of Marco Pantani, a world class climber and Tour winner. Pantani died from a cocaine overdose, citing the doping scandals and the intrusive press and police involvement in his life, as reasons for giving up his personal fight.
  • 2005 – Spaniard Roberto Hernández was stripped of his Vuelta a España win after testing positive for EPO, a banned substance which boosts the production of red blood cells.
  • 2006 – Former team mates of Lance Armstrong admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs, in the process casting doubt on Armstrong’s own career achievements. The year was further blackened when the winner of the Tour de France, Floyd Landis, tested positive for doping. The International Cycling Union (UCI) spent much of the subsequent period debating whether or not to strip Landis of his title.

Helmets

You’d think everyone would agree that helmets make cycling safer, yet there’s a great debate raging about how true this is. There is evidence that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of severe head injury, especially if the helmet is properly fitted. Many professional road cyclists did not wear helmets until recently, because they argued that overheating and discomfort were increased, and that they had a right to choose. In 1991, a protest was staged when participants in the Grand Tour were told they had to wear helmets. The authorities relented but, in March 2003, Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev was involved in a fatal crash. It was believed that a helmet would have saved the rider, who sustained massive head injuries in a crash. From 2003, the UCI insisted that riders wear protective headgear. This is now enshrined in the UCI regulations:

Regulation 1.3.031
1. Wearing a rigid safety helmet shall be mandatory during competitions and training sessions in the following disciplines: track, mountain bike, cyclo-cross, trials and BMX. 2. During competitions on the road, a rigid safety helmet shall be worn.

Except where legal provisions determine otherwise, riders taking part in UCI ProTour events may, at their own risk, refrain from wearing a helmet during individual time trial races taking place entirely on a mountainous course. Every discussion regarding the qualification entirely on a mountainous course will be decided by the commissaires’ panel.

In the UK, the wearing of cycling helmets is not compulsory outside of competition, or for leisure riders.

Common arguments against the introduction of compulsory helmets

  • Focusing on helmets draws attention away from other important safety considerations, such as road awareness, maintenance and riding skills.
  • Helmets are designed to withstand impact with a flat surface, not collision with a motor vehicle. Accidents involving motorised vehicles often prove fatal, whether helmets are worn or not.
  • Compulsion may result in a drop-off in the number of people cycling, with helmets regarded as unattractive, nerdy and uncomfortable. This is a greater concern for leisure cycling than the sporting disciplines.

For the full facts and arguments, refer to the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.