Touchpaper: Never Mind the Disc Brakes

The disc brake saga rumbles on and on, fuelled by Fran Ventoso’s horrific leg-slicing injury at Paris-Roubaix and his impassioned open letter calling for their removal from the peloton.
The UCI, to their credit, swiftly backed down and banned their use in professional racing until further notice. The internet, meanwhile, went into full-on meltdown mode, as every Tom, Dick and Harriet proffered their expert opinion on why disc brakes rule / stink / should never have been allowed in the first place.
A Twitter follower of 1 asked where we stood on the issue. We, I replied, have no stance. We do not race over cobbles at 50kph, or down mountains considerably faster. It is for those who make a livelihood risking their necks for our entertainment to make a call on what is safe or otherwise.
The pro riders, it seems, are overwhelmingly against their use. But then the nature of social media and its kneejerk and savage reactions dictates that dissenting voices will often keep schtum until the fuss dies down for fear of attracting the attention of opinionated self-appointed experts in the field (Well, they own a bike with discs, so they know all about it, right?)
Plus, if your team’s equipment sponsor wants to put you on a disc-equipped bike, the professional thing to do is keep it zipped and get on with it, like it or not.
What Ventoso’s unfortunate accident did serve to do, however, was draw attention away from the death of Antoine Demoitié just two weeks before at Gent-Wevelgem following a collision with a motorbike. While the UCI acted swiftly and decisively in the instance of a rider’s injury, protocol regarding the number (and behaviour) of vehicles in the race convoy seems to be a less pressing matter. Demoitié, tragically, is not in a position to write an open letter to anyone.
Collisions between riders and race vehicles are nothing new. But the profusion of accidents in the last two or three years is surely a sign that not enough is being done to protect the peloton. Getting hot under the collar about what brakes to use is missing the point. There are more serious issues to be dealt with first, and the behaviour of the in-race convoy should be top priority.
When we sent Paul Maunder to the Dauphiné last year to attend the UCI’s driving certificate course, it was exactly what we suspected: a box-ticking exercise designed to absolve the organisers of any blame.
Watch this PowerPoint presentation; sign here. Congratulations, you have passed! Now make sure you have good insurance…
It’s an alarming situation, one that you would think professional riders would be up in arms about. So why aren’t they? Would Bernard Hinault in his magnificent prime have put up with it? He’d either have sat down in the road and refused to race, or punched somebody’s lights out. Probably both.
And what of the riders’ union, the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés), headed by Gianni Bugno. Following each serious incident, we receive an email assuring us that the situation is condemned by the CPA and they are in negotiations with the UCI to put the safety of its members at the top of the agenda.
And then, nothing. Or so it appears, from the outside.
“That’s not entirely true,” says Matt Brammeier, the Dimension Data rider with an insider’s knowledge of the workings of the organisation. “The CPA is gaining strength and support every day and the future is actually looking pretty bright. In the past, the CPA was only represented by seven nations: Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Recently the doors have been opened to other nations and supranational organisations, like ANAPRC [representing North America], and even more recently the UK and Ireland have been given a seat at the CPA table.
“They have taken huge strides in the last few months, implementing the extreme weather protocol, playing a part in the ceasing of disc brake trials and currently proposing some safety regulations to be implemented in all professional races. In my view, Gianni and the team are doing a good job. It’s not easy at the best of times but, as I said before, it’s gaining momentum and the future is looking bright for the CPA.”
Funding for the CPA, Brammeier explains, comes from a mandatory 7% levy on all prize money, with 2% going to the organisation and 5% to a riders’ solidarity fund – a one-off payment to assist with re-training at the end of their cycling careers.  
“However, half the peloton do not have representation on the CPA board,” Brammeier explains. “Furthermore, most riders from those nations who have reps at the CPA do not participate in the affairs of the CPA. The blame belongs to both the CPA and the riders for allowing the organisation to be so ineffective for so long. So my message to anyone out there who is not involved is: Why pay for a service and not use it?”
So why don’t the pros unite and actually make a stand on the issues that are affecting not only their livelihoods, but their very existence?
“This is the million dollar question. If I knew the answer to this, I would be a happy man. Of course, we are all under pressure to do the right thing and portray the right image for our sponsors, fans and sport in general, so it’s always difficult for someone to put their neck on the line.”
Which is where, surely, the CPA comes in. By standing united behind an organisation representing their best interests, professional cyclists do not need to put their necks on the line on an individual basis. Let Bugno and his team argue the case. Don’t fire off a Tweet and think your job is done.
Otherwise motor doping and disc brakes become the major talking points, and the death of Antoine Demoitié, instead of becoming a catalyst for change, is swept away on a tide of righteous indignation over lesser wrongs.
Thank you to Matt Brammeier for taking the time to answer my questions while preparing for his wedding last weekend… Many congratulations to him and Nikki.

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