What's Cool In Road Cycling

Helmet Head: Not Black & White

The death of Andre Kivilev has sparked the most prolific PCN reader response ever, with letters still coming in regarding the value of helmets and whether they should become mandatory equipment or racers. Three of these present reader opinions on a slightly different side of the coin…

The shocking news of Andrei Kivilev’s death during Paris-Nice last weak stomached me for several days and still today. Not because I knew him or knew much about his career prior to showing us what he was made of in the 2001 Tour. Perhaps I’m a hopeless romantic about my sport, which doesn’t mean I don’t have convictions, much of those shared by our very educated readers and correspondents. I admire our readers not because they are discerning in choosing us for our original content but for “doing the task at hand” or sticking to the offered forum on this young rider’s passing. This is where I take a knee down counter banked criterium corner is what surfaces from this accident and… It has nothing to do with helmet use.

Before I get crucified, I was a hands-on retailer for many years after two racing related concussions slowed me down (while wearing a hairnet style lid). Not only was I a helmet advocate, I sold helmets to an average of three hundred families a year, not counting what my employees were mandated to do – promote and sell helmets to more riders. Not that selling helmets is the profiting factor of one’s shop although any store owner who tells you he doesn’t try to sell at least a helmet per every bike sold is lying to your face. I believe in them and own one with less vents for winter riding, one to go with a particular team outfit, one in a neutral color that goes with everything and a couple more to fit a possible hair style change even though my haircut has been the same for over a dozen years. All of superior quality for a perfect fit and ventilation but more importantly because I value my noggin.

Working the PCN French Bureau, I spotted (Laurent) Fignon’s original quote at least a day before it was somewhat misinterpreted by colleagues and its readers. Don’t think for a second patriotism plays a role… Come on, comparing a French Canadian to a Frenchman is not too dissimilar from comparing an American to a Brit. Being the forever intellectual Fignon is, he sensed the media would soon be up in arms about lack of helmet use in the pro peloton and stated it shouldn’t be what to focus on from this tragedy. Although pragmatic, he showed emotions to the International press probably reserved for his wife when he collapsed on the Champs Elysees at the end of the ’89 Tour TT. You can’t freely denigrate the original professor without addressing Greg’s selective helmet use during the same Tour De France, which he happened to win with immeasurable panache. Wouldn’t be a fair debate.

Andrei’s Cofidis teammate, David Moncoutie quit after an hour of racing, the day after his incredible Mont Farron ride on Friday. Vinoukourov was as motivated as ever after Frigo threw the towel. “Kivilev’s wife phoned me and asked I continue winning for him” said the German team leader after his second career Paris- Nice win, according to today’s Sports.fr. Ever reserved, the Kasakh Telekon rider waived Kivilev’s portrait on the podium, melting in tears and barely surviving his top career moment Sunday.

“It is clear now I don’t want to return to Kazakhstan to live as planned with my own family. His wife and kid are in France and will stay there. My role is to take care of them.”

I doubt “locker room” talk was about helmet use considering the tears of solidarity we’ve come to expect from our heroes.

Eric Van Bockern

On the helmet issue; These men are professionals who understand the risks they take, and accept those risks. Men in many sports take death-defying risks in pursuit of fame and riches, and little could be done in many sports to allay the potential lethality of those sports. Riding down a mountain road at 40-50mph with boulders on one side and a drop on the other, helmeted or bare-headed, is a life threatening act. Riding a motorcycle at speed, climbing mountains, doing multiple flips on skis, or a bicycle, all these and
more are life endangering acts, and a helmet will only slightly alleviate the multiple dangers therein.
Having said the above, race organizers hold all the cards: They have the trophies and money to present to the victors, and can stipulate who and how those chosen may participate. It is just that simple.

Scott Giry

It is tragic that it still takes a horrific accident to bring the issue ofhelmets to the fore in conversations among riders today. While I agree thatyou would have to be nuts not to wear a helmet, I also believe that there are circumstances in which the realities of professional road racing make not wearing a helmet a reasonable alternative.

I rode without a helmet for training during16 years of road racing. As an amateur we were, of course, required to wear a hairnet during racing. We would wear a helmet if it was snowing or raining out or on the track, but that was it. We did not debate the philosophical issues of choice versus safety… it just was not done.

My first coach and mentor was an old-school Czech rider, from whom I learned a lot. I still remember rolling-up for my first squad ride as a Junior with
the older riders who were back from a campaign in Belgium. It was cold and starting to snow. I was wearing a helmet, but I was alone. Nobody said
anything, but by the time we had gone over the days’ programme and set-out, I had removed the helmet and quietly placed it on a counter for recovery later.

Since coming back to the road many years later, now as a Master, I found that everything had changed. My “C” Record-equipped, SLX-tubed Zullo team bike with the 7-speed Maillard was a dinosaur… and helmets had evolved from the hairnets of old, too. Not only were they comfortable, but they even looked O.K., so I bought one and used it whenever I rode.

Although I cannot remember any of it, my SRM datalog provides a record. In September of my second season ‘back’, I had a crash involving my C-40 and a 911 Targa. The impact broke the headtube off the bike and I ‘woke up two days later in the hospital. When I got released and picked-up my stuff from the RCMP, my Giro Pneumo was crushed-in and filled with dried blood. I am convinced that I would not be here today if I was not wearing that lid.

Since that day, the stretch of highway where I had my accident has been improved with upgraded roadwork and the dangerous funneling of traffic has now been removed. What is not removed, however, is my helmet. I have become a bit of a helmet advocate now. Last season, a solicitor on the other side of a file had purchased a Giro Pneumo based upon my
recommendation. I was unable to get a hold of him for awhile and found that he had a front break bolt shear- off during a ride and fall into his front wheel. He landed on his head, but was wearing his helmet. He was
banged-up, but otherwise O.K.

Notwithstanding these personal incidents, I still have a hard time accepting a blanket helmet rule without any discretionary application. I can see instances where not wearing a helmet would be significantly more comfortable and the risk would be reasonable to assume (ie. Virenque soloing to the summit of the Tourmalet or Santi Botero riding an ITT in hot weather). Any rule that the UCI invokes should have some rationality to it and allow for professional riders to make there own decisions taking into consideration the racing conditions of the day. What the riders are afraid of, and quite rightly, is the UCI creating another cast- in-stone regulation preventing a rational approach.

Keep up the great site and your approach to free discussion of the important issues involving our sport. While you are at it, maybe you could start a thread regarding the Hamilton Commonwealth track events fiasco, hot on the heels of the Hamitlon Worlds’ fiasco…


Geoffrey A. Mar

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