Last weekend’s Paris-Roubaix was a thrilling race that semi-anonymous 37-year-old Matthew Hayman won after spending all day in the early breakaway. Neither Peter Sagan nor Fabian Cancellara had any hand in the finish of the race because they both were involved in crashes. They were the heavy favorites, but a single momentary slip of wheels cost both their chances at winning. The Hell of the North is unforgiving like that.
Another dude who crashed was veteran Spanish rider Fran Ventoso. Ventoso helped his teammate Imanol Erviti to a surprise top-ten finish, but had to exit the race after falling about halfway through. The Spaniard had the misfortune of following the wheel of one of the 16 riders who was using disc brakes at Roubaix, and his knee got turned into sashimi after he fell on one.
[The photos below are gross, so, you’ve been warned]
[Not like JPP gross, but they’re bad]
[Okay here goes]
Disc brakes are relatively new to the professional road cycling world, and they have been implemented sparingly over the past year-and-a-half as part of a two-year trial run. This was the first time they were used in Paris-Roubaix.
This morning, Ventoso posted a very long, thorough letter to Facebook, in which he details how falling on a disc brake sliced up his knee and how it happened to another rider he shared an ambulance with. Here are the gory details, and the call for change:
At Paris-Roubaix, only two teams used them. With eight riders each, that makes it sixteen, carrying a total 32 disc brakes into the peloton. Let me take you to 130km into the race: into a cobbled section, a pile-up splits the field, with riders falling everywhere. I’ve got to break but I can’t avoid crashing against the rider in front of me, who was also trying not to hit the ones ahead. I didn’t actually fall down: it was only my leg touching the back of his bike. I keep riding. But shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane or surface that covers my tibia. I get off my bike, throw myself against the right-hand side of the road over the grass, cover my face with my hands in shock and disbelief, start to feel sick… I could only wait for my team car and the ambulance, while a lot of things come through my mind.
Disc brakes should have NEVER arrived into the peloton, not at least as we know them right now. I haven’t met any rider who has run out of braking power with traditional brakes; I haven’t known anyone who didn’t see his wheels skidding when you brake with all power you’ve got, no matter traditional or disc brakes. Then: why using them?
Conversely, there are lots of problems to change wheels after a puncture; added trouble for neutral service, which has to carry three or four different sets of wheels to help you out in case your team car is not around… and the most worrying thing, as I stated before, is that disc brakes in its actual concept are giant knives, ‘machetes’ when crashing against or crashed by them at a certain speed. And in some points, we reach 80, 90, 100 kilometres per hour.
The image of 400 knives whirling in tight formation is scary as hell, and it is conceivable that someone could suffer a far more serious injury. In the earlier portion of his letter, Ventoso talks about the inevitability of cycling changing as advancing technologies open up new possibilities. He mentions that the pro peloton adopting carbon frames and electronic shifters have been beneficial for the riders, mechanics. and everyone else involved.
But he singles out disc brakes as a technology apart, and he has a point. Discs offer slight advantages over pivot brakes in terms of reliability and use in harsh weather conditions. That said, it’s not as if traditional brakes are notably lacking or holding the sport back in the same way that steel frames were.
In the wake of Ventoso’s letter, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA) called on the UCI (cycling’s governing body) to get disc brakes out of the peloton:
We have asked to suspend the tests on the disc brakes to the UCI. We have just had the support of the equipment commission for that. We have been talking about the risks of the use of the disc brakes since months, and we have sent letters in the past to the UCI and the organizers to avoid such risks. Now they are going to finally listen to our voice. We don’t want to stop the progress but we want to find common solutions for the introduction of new technologies without risks for the riders, and definitely with their involvement.
A Norwegian cycling site is reporting that the UCI will remove disc brakes from races, but they’re claiming that it was their idea, and that pressure from the CPA played no part.
As races get faster, more motorcycles join the peloton, and new brakes threaten injury, cycling officials are going to have to prioritize rider safety. Unlike the motorbike issue, this particular problem has an easy solution. For the most part, riders don’t want disc brakes. They’re being pushed into the professional peloton primarily by bike manufacturers, and the advantages they present are negligible compared to their potential to seriously mangle someone. Hopefully, Ventoso’s fucked up knee will keep them off bikes for a few more years, if not indefinitely.