Tragedy at the Tour of Flanders

The Tour of Flanders otherwise known as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is without doubt my favourite race of the year.

I absolutely love the Classics and I love this thrilling race.

Sadly, yesterday’s even saw one of the nastiest crashes between a rider and spectator that I think you’re likely to see.

Garmin- Sharp’s Johann Vansummeren collided at practically full speed with an elderly female spectator. There is footage on YouTube, but frankly, I’ve decided not to include it in this post because it is quite sickening.

Essentially, Vansummeren was at the back of the peloton and he didn’t see that on the small traffic island he was hurtling past, a group of three spectators perched watching the race.

Vansummeren was taken to hospital but later released with a black eye, some stitches and cuts. He is, however, devastated at the news that the elderly woman is reportedly in an induced coma.

According to “I am in shock,” Vansummeren told Sporza. “I have a black eye and a few stitches, but that’s not important now. I feel bad for the people involved.”

He goes on to add, “I have no desire to go further into [details] of the crash,” Vansummeren said. “It would only get bogged down on who is to blame.”

And this is very true.

Already my Twitter TL is filling up with comments that the race organiser should have put someone on the island to warn riders of it and there has been the obligatory, ‘well, they shouldn’t have been there’, too.

We may well argue that the spectators should not have been there but the reality is, no one deserves to be in an induced coma for being somewhere where they shouldn’t have been.

If we all received punishments for doing something silly, then 95% of the population would be in an induced coma. We have all made stupid errors in judgement and thankfully, most of the time we have escaped unscathed.

As for arguments relating to whether an official should have been on the traffic island, well that requires a number of factors to be taken into consideration.

Not every piece of ‘traffic furniture’ has a gendarme waving a warning flag. I suspect race organisers have a system for deciding which pieces of traffic furniture are maned and which are not.

But, as cycling becomes more and more popular and as the crowds at these events grow, it seems that some solutions to potential collisions with spectators and riders need to be considered.

The start line at Brugge via @michael_hepburn and @ORICA-GreenEDGE on Twitter
The start line at Brugge via @michael_hepburn and @ORICA-GreenEDGE on Twitter

One of the best things about cycling is that spectators can get so close to the action. This is something that should be preserved. The expense and extreme commercialisation of other sports leaves many feeling cold and empty, but the fact that anyone can line the road and cheer their cycling heroes is one of the best things about cycling.

But in order to preserve this, there are a few things that need to happen.

Perhaps organiser may look at having security patrols, keeping fans a safe distance back? Fencing off 250-300 kilometres of road is just not a logistical option and quite frankly, who wants that to happen? No one.

But having some security patrolling the sideline may be a solution to fans who get too close.

Educating the public about the dangers of getting too close to the action is also worthwhile, however, this is a slow burning strategy.

Another rider, Trek’s Yaroslav Popovych also had a strange collision with a female spectator yesterday.

His handle bars got caught up in a woman’s jacket.

Yes, it was a windy day, but once again this suggests the woman either got too close or did not realise just how close these riders can get to the side of the road. This is yet another example of where spectators either need to be told to stand back or where an education strategy may be useful in preventing further accidents.

Yesterday’s events were absolutely tragic.

Let’s all hope that the woman makes a full recovery and that Johann Vansummeren also recovers, not just form his physical injuries but from the emotional strain of the tragic collision.




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