Adam Hansen: Riders and Organizers Are More Safety-Aware

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

This year’s 2023 Vuelta a España has so far been exciting, controversial and turbulent, with much of the controversy coming at the beginning of the three-week race. Race organizers had scheduled stage 1, a team time trial, for the early evening, so that the end of the stage could be presented live on the evening news. Clearly, based on their experience of summer daylight in Barcelona and the weather reports, they had assumed that the stage would present no safety risks to the riders.

But climate change has made it difficult for weather forecasters, and by the time the first team – Caja Rural Seguros RGA – rolled down the starting ramp, thunder sounded overhead and rain had begun to fall. That rain turned into a torrential downpour that made the road surface extremely slippery and darkened the course. By the time the last team – the Soudal-QuickStep of defending champion Remco Evenepoel – started out it was midnight-dark and conditions were clearly hazardous.

Evenepoel made his feelings known as soon as he crossed the finish line, pointing at the sky and using an expletive. “It’s like riding your car [at] 20kph on the highway in the full dark and no lights,” Evenepoel later complained. “It’s super dark and super sketchy on these roads, in my eyes it’s just ridiculous.”

The rain had also changed conditions on the Category 3 climb and descent near the end of stage 2, which finished in Barcelona. Before the stage began, riders were seen to be consulting about their stance regarding the running of the stage, with Jumbo-Visma’s double Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard particularly active. The organizers eventually decided that the times for the general classification would be taken with 9 kilometers to go, but that riders could race to the finish line for the stage win if they wanted to.

Stage 3 was marred by Evenepoel’s crash after crossing the finish line first. His speed took him into a group of soigneurs and other assistants standing about 15m behind the line, and he hit the ground, leaving him with blood streaming down the right side of his face. “That’s three days in a row [of safety issues],” he grumbled.

Finally, organizers decided to neutralize the final 2.05km of stage 9 – taking the GC times at that point and allowing riders to race for the stage win – after a freak rainstorm, in an area that had not seen rain in about 18 months, had left the final 100m of road covered with mud.

The unusual weather, and the many crashes it has provoked, has made riders more proactive in their dealings with race organizers, and so has the leadership of the recently elected president of the CPA riders’ union, Adam Hansen. The 42-year-old Australian former Grand Tour rider is not shy about admitting to the part he has played in the growing safety activism of the cyclists.

“The riders are seeing since I have been president that when you unite the riders, there is some power,” he said via email. “This is a real positive point.”

Organizers have also become more sensitive to the safety demands of the riders, he went on to say, in part because of the death of the popular Swiss rider Gino Mäder after crashing during a high-speed descent in this year’s Tour de Suisse. “I was in contact with the [Vuelta] technical director almost every second day,” Hansen said. “It was one of the best interactions I have had with an organizer. There were some problems earlier in the race and I think the organizer, who I know personally, was really trying to turn the table on the events at the start of the race.”

In addition, the Vuelta organizers “first saw [the mud at the end of stage 9] and acted immediately and informed me,” he said. “I think they are really seeing that the CPA is paying close attention.”

Finally, Hansen declared that “100 % we would intervene if another stage starts as late [as the Vuelta stage 1]. But the organizers learnt a very big lesson, so they already know.”

He said that he had this week spoken to several race organizers who told him that “they would like the CPA to be present at route selections. Not only because of [our] input, but also for us to see that the police often have the final say. For example, if there is a hospital close by, the race cannot block access to it.”