What's Cool In Road Cycling

Why Do Pro Riders Crash So Much? More Thoughts

Norman Hill gives Ed his opinion

Crashes, why?: Continuing Ed Hood’s theme of why there seems to be more crashes in the professional peloton recently, Ed caught up with British star of the 60’s and 70’s, Norman Hill for his thoughts. There have been many changes over the years – Norman throws some light on the less than positive ‘improvements’.

binckbank20 stage 1 crash
Big crash on stage 1 of the 2020 BinckBank Tour

We recently ran a piece by our Russian friend, Nikolai Razouvaev about the plethora of crashes in the pro peloton – of which the Tour de France has had a fair share, especially the first week with a fresh, frisky, twitchy peloton unleashed upon some technical and gnarly roads. Another of our friends, British 60’s and 70’s professional rider Norman Hill, who rode the Belgian and Dutch kermises, six day races and behind the big motors, saw Nikolai’s piece and gave us his opinions on hard, unplanned contact between cyclist and tarmac.

Over to you, Mr. Hill:

I like to add a few more related factors that in my opinion all contribute to those raised in Nikolai’s article. I’d open by suggesting that a forum be initiated with riders of the past and present to give their thoughts and demand the UCI wake up. Here are my suggestions:

By far the biggest contributing factor to the ‘crash-crisis’ in my opinion the use of race radios. With the DS constantly in the riders ear to control the race with their calculations ‘for the catch’ of the breakaway and a TV screen on their laps in the following cars. ‘Go,go,go!’‘we need to catch that ‘break’, – ‘10 kilometres to the finish, move up’ it’s all so contrived. Bike racing should not be controlled electronically by the DS’s in the team cars. The only racing on TV worth watching is when they are in the mountains where it’s real mano-a-mano.

teunissen radio
Teunissen having radio trouble

Electronic Devices:
Riders have their electronic device (no names mentioned) across the top of the handlebar extension – a massive distraction that only needs a split second loss of concentration to wander off from the ‘flow’ of the peloton and/or awareness of the road conditions. That distraction plus the radios banging away in their ear and Bang! They’re on the deck!

Too much to take in

Wheels, Nikolai makes a very good point on overly deep section rims catching the wind, couple that with the distraction of your computer and your DS screaming in your ear. . . Perhaps a maximum depth for bunch races, with experts saying 44 mm is optimal?

total energie wheels
Rims too deep?

Frame Geometry:
Then add in the current frame geometry; they’re virtually riding track bikes with gears fitted – Adam Blythe said as much about his Aqua Blue, 3T team bike. By the looks of photos the wheelbase appears down to around 38 to 39 inches; years ago 40 inches was on the short side. That must have a bearing, these bikes must be so ‘twitchy’ and can’t be easy to relax on.

ag2r merckx
Geometry, deep rims, disk wheels and probably a power meter – This AG2R Eddy Merckx has it all

From Steel to Carbon:
Carbon is much lighter than steel and much more rigid, the lack of compliance in carbon compared to steel is another factor; the new frames are much less forgiving.

From steel to carbon by Ernesto Colnago

Positioning on the Bike:
Many riders look weird to my eye, the way they sit on a bike just doesn’t look right; so many riders look like when they are on ‘the hooks’ that their hands are down by their knees. Rarely do the modern riders get down in a racing position as they charge along in the peloton, all riding along on ‘the tops,’ their ‘hard racing’ position when the going is tough. If you to Youtube and look at the Tour de France stages of yesteryear you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Positions on the bike have changed

Let’s Look Back to the 50’s – 70’s Era:
Go back to the era of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Jan Jansen, Peter Post, Patrick Sercu, Tom Simpson, Hugh Porter, Barry Hoban and all the rest. They were all balanced on their bikes when going flat out, in time trials too with no tri-bars in those days. Take a look at the side-on photos of those old riders and compare them to the vast majority of current professional riders. Many of the current generation sit on their bikes like rank amateurs. Riders in those former years earned their money from the criteriums, six days and track meetings. So many of us were all-rounders. They were complete for their profession. Yes, Brad Wiggins and Geraint Thomas came from the track but both look like professionals on their bike; they are the exceptions, along with a few more of the current professionals. The point I am emphasising is that the vast majority of riding positions look out of balance – it’s not just about, ‘aero.’

Riders used to ride everything

Road Conditions:
Have road surfaces got worse from the 50’s – 70’s to now? I would say, ‘no’ – they have improved. I can remember riding 180km kermises with 100km of pave in the pouring rain with 130 plus starters. A couple of us punctured but no one fell on their ear! I also remember one big bunch sprint finish in Switzerland as an amateur, a 160 km road race with 100km of ‘naturstrasse’ (gravel). No one fell off.

roglic tdf20 st18
Gravel – Nothing new

The mixture of the two methods of braking is a potential issue. The introduction of disc brakes has been driven by the bike manufacturers; get the pros on discs and convince the ‘Rapha sportive generation’ that they NEED discs. For years rim brakes have meet the challenge and they still do. I get the impression that just to touch a disc brake lever appears to result instant arrestment. I think rim brakes are more sensitive and responsive to finger pressure. Disc brakes maybe great for MTB racing where the riders at the start may be in a bunch – but then it’s single line most of the way. For road racing conducted largely in a big bunch I believe that disc brakes are seriously questionable.

pogacar yellow
Tadej Pogačar didn’t need disk brakes to win the Tour de France

Tyres – Tyre Pressure:
Everyone nowadays seem to want to have maximum pressure in their rubber. But if you want to ride the cobbles, then depending on your weight and whether it’s dry or wet you have to pay careful attention to how much pressure you ride in your tyres – front and rear.

tyre pressure
Too much pressure?

Firstly, eliminate all electronic devices and ear pieces from bike racing. And secondly, organise a forum with the riders past and present as well as technical experts to discuss the issues I raise above: rim depths, wheel bases, tyre pressures, the use of rim brakes.

binckbank20 de bondt
Crash for Belgian champion Dries De Bondt

# Those are the views of a pro from one of the sport’s Golden Eras – what are YOUR views? #

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