One of the most memorable rides of my life was on the day the Tour de France hit the Ashdown Forest in 1994.
On the return to town, my good friend and very talented Keirin rider, Rob Jefferies, turned on the gas. It was exhilarating, trying desperately to cling onto the wheel of ‘Big Rob’, all 6’4” of him, all the way back to Croydon. I hung in there, but it was touch and go. If only I could have tried that hard when racing.
Rob was killed in 2011 by a young, recently qualified driver who was texting at the wheel. The road in Dorset where his life was needlessly ended was not dissimilar to the one we had been smashing along 13 years earlier. Had texting been ‘a thing’ back then, it could have been both of us wiped out from behind by an inattentive motorist. It could happen to any of us, any time.
In the space of two weeks recently, three incidents involving cyclists and vehicles hit me hard. The first saw the death of 2011 Giro d’Italia winner Michele Scarponi following a collision with a van whilst training. I never had the pleasure of meeting Scarponi, but it was clear from the reactions of all who knew him that – much like Big Rob – he was a larger than life character and a true one-off.
Tour of Britain organiser and Olympic bronze medallist Mick Bennett was taken out by a car in Surrey just a few days later, trashing his Pinarello but thankfully escaping with minor injuries. The driver of the Nissan Micra, pursued by Bennett’s riding companion, did not stop.
Two days after this, Chris Froome posted a twitter photo of an equally trashed Pinarello, saying an impatient driver on his southern France training roads had intentionally rammed him having mounted the pavement in pursuit of the three-time Tour champion.
These examples are just the ones I am aware of in that short space of time, as the three men are well known. There were, no doubt, others who fell victim to drivers of vehicles who were either too impatient or too uncaring towards other human beings to even consider that their mode of transport is a potential lethal weapon.
I have lost two good friends, both clubmates, to car drivers over the years, and several acquaintances from the world of bike racing.
It is time for us all, myself included, to stop shrugging our shoulders each time one of these needless deaths occurs and saying: “But what can be done?”
Chris Boardman does fine work lobbying for improved conditions for cyclists in conjunction with various groups. Stop Killing Cyclists is a UK pressure group with a clear remit. The London Cycling Campaign works tirelessly – and successfully – in our capital for improved conditions for cyclists. There will be similar organisations in your own country.
Get involved. Make a difference.