Australia leads a group of cycling nations pushing for better safety measures to avoid a repeat of the horror crash at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday, when England rider Matt Walls was catapulted over the ramps of the velodrome and in the crowd.
AusCycling performance director Jesse Korf, who is in Birmingham for the 2022 Games, said he was speaking to a number of his counterparts about presenting a ‘united front’ to the governing body , the International Cycling Union (UCI).
“You’re not going to get to a point where you’re going to eliminate accidents from bike racing,” he said. “But people going over a railing – that’s another story in my mind.”
On the final lap of a qualifying round for the men’s scratch race at Lee Valley VeloPark on Sunday, Walls was involved in a crash with half a dozen riders. The Tokyo 2020 gold medalist was lifted over the railing by his momentum and sent full speed towards shocked spectators. Walls received medical treatment for nearly an hour before being taken to hospital, but was later released with only minor injuries.
Two other runners were also taken to hospital, while spectators – including a young girl and a man covered in blood – were treated for their injuries. The remainder of the morning session was cancelled.
“This is not the first rider to go over a railing or the first track where this has happened,” Korf said. The performance director said Australia and other nations intend to table a proposal with the UCI regarding mandatory improvements to velodrome safety measures.
“We are all convinced that from a security point of view, consideration [is required] around the increasing heights of railings or looking at a plexiglass solution or something of that nature,” he said. “[We want to] pushing for something like this to be considered, because it’s not the first time.
“The rules of ice hockey have been set up in such a way that there is a plexiglass wall to protect the athletes and the spectators. So there’s a precedent in other sports and it’s certainly a conversation worth having.
On Sunday, British cyclist and five-time Olympic champion Laura Kenny urged the sport to do more to prevent such incidents. “I think the crashes are getting worse and that’s because the speeds are going up, the positions are getting more extreme,” she said.
“Maybe there should be screens because [Walls] shouldn’t have been able to go over and into the crowd – it’s damn dangerous.
Track cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year was also marred by a number of accidents, including a high-speed incident for Australia’s team pursuit team after a freak handlebar slam and collision between the Danish and British teams.
Korf suggested the sport needed to take more steps to protect runners. “Cycling is not too different from what Formula 1 was like ten, ten and a half years ago in terms of advancements in equipment, technology, safety and driver welfare” , did he declare. “There are steps in the works, but there is a lot more ground that can be covered and surely will be in the years to come.
Australia suffered a number of mishaps in Birmingham. Two-time world sprint champion Matthew Glaetzer’s attempt to defend his Commonwealth Games keirin crown was canceled on Saturday with a high-speed crash that left England’s Joe Truman in hospital. Tasmanian Josh Duffy was involved in the incident on Sunday but escaped with minor scratches.
AusCycling said: “Rider safety is at the heart of everything we do to train and prepare our riders for competition. “While we are making continuous improvements, they are incredibly powerful athletes who move at high speeds and accidents can sometimes happen.”
Despite those incidents, Korf insisted team morale was high, helped by Australia’s seven gold medals already at the velodrome. “The team is doing really well on and off the boards,” he said. “The atmosphere is generally very good.”