Australia is leading a group of cycling nations pushing for better safety measures to prevent a repeat of the horror crash at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday, when the English rider Matt Walls was catapulted over the velodrome railings and into the crowd.
The 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 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
“You’re not going to get to a point where you’re going to eliminate crashes from bike racing,” he said. “But people going over a railing – that’s a different story in my mind.”
During the final lap of a qualifying heat for the men’s scratch race at the 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 hurtling towards shocked spectators. Walls received medical attention for almost an hour before being taken to hospital, but was subsequently discharged with only minor injuries.
Two other riders were also taken to hospital, while spectators – including a young girl and a man covered in blood – received treatment for injuries. The remainder of the morning session was cancelled.
“It’s not the first rider to go over a railing or the first track where it has happened,” Korf said. The performance director indicated Australia and other nations intended to lodge a proposal with the UCI about mandatory improvements to velodrome safety measures.
“We all feel strongly that from a safety perspective, consideration [is required] around increasing heights of railings or looking at a plexiglass solution or something of that nature,” he said. “[We want to] make a push for something like that to be considered, because it’s not the first time.
“Rules in ice hockey have been set such that there is a plexiglass wall there to protect the athletes and the spectators. So there is some precedent in other sports and it’s certainly a conversation worth having.”
On Sunday, the 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 it’s because the speeds are getting higher, the positions are getting more extreme,” she said.
“Maybe there should be screens because [Walls] should not have been able to go over the top and into the crowd – that’s pretty damn dangerous.”
Track cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year was also marred by a number of crashes, including a high-speed incident for the Australian team pursuit squad after a freak handle-bar snap, and a collision between the Danish and British teams.
Korf suggested the sport had to take more steps to protect riders. “Cycling is not too dissimilar to where Formula One was a decade, a decade and a half ago in terms of advancements in equipment, technology, safety, rider welfare,” he said. “There are steps being made, but there is a lot more ground that can get covered and surely will get covered in years to come.”
Australia have endured a number of mishaps in Birmingham. The bid by Matthew Glaetzer, the two-time sprint world champion, to defend his Commonwealth Games keirin crown came undone on Saturday with a high-speed crash that left England’s Joe Truman in hospital. The Tasmanian Josh Duffy was involved in the incident on Sunday, but escaped with minor scrapes.
AusCycling said: “Rider safety is at the heart of everything we do to coach and prepare our riders for competition. “While we are making continuous improvements, these are incredibly powerful athletes moving at high speeds and accidents will sometimes occur.”
Despite these incidents Korf insisted morale in the team was high, helped by the seven gold medals already won by Australia in the velodrome. “The team is doing really well on and off the boards,” he said. “The vibe is generally very good.”