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Letters to Cyclingnews - Paris-Roubaix edition - April 12, 2006
The UCI president Mr.Pat McQuaid has made recent statements regarding the disqualification of Hoste, Gusev and Van Petegem, stating:
"From my point of view, the most important thing is that you must consider all the young cyclists who were watching that television coverage yesterday. If they saw those riders going through those gates and took that as an example of what you can do and get away with, you can imagine the potential danger in future races."
And then follows with:
"It was different with the first group. If that had been a high-speed train and one of the three chasers was still crossing over the tracks, look at what could have happened."
He goes on to discuss the rules and how they should be interpreted. My question is - why was it different with Boonen, Flecha and Ballan? The law is generally universal in all countries regarding railway level crossings. If the gates are down and the bells are ringing, you stop. Any other action is dangerous regardless of the observations of persons being held up by the gates.
If Mr McQuaid wishes to "set an example" to young people he should disqualify Boonen, Flecha and Ballan. After all, they broke the same rule and most probably the local road rules. The problem Mr McQuaid now faces is he is taking the high moral ground on this issue, but is inconsistent with his assessment of the situation.
Following his second statement, "if that had been a high speed train..." here's a question for Mr.McQuaid; ‘If there had been another train coming the other direction, what would have happened to Boonen and Co?' There are two tracks, which usually indicates two way traffic.
By way of qualifying here, I am constructing a high speed rail in Taiwan. Safety is paramount in our business. The actions of all the riders were unsafe and dangerous, regardless of what is at stake in the race, lives are more important. Set an example Mr.McQuaid, but at least be consistent.
I question Pat McQuaid’s argument. IF there is a rule that states that you are not allowed to cross when the barriers are down, regardless of whether or not the train or trains have passed is irrelevant, Boonen and company should also be disqualified. IF there is no such rule related to the issue then the UCI must exercise their judgement based on accepted safety, common sense and setting an example for the rest of the cycle racing and cycling community.
Personally I believe that the Hoste group disqualification was correct, and that Boonen and company should also be disqualified.
I also believe that it was bad planning on the part of the organisers to include a rail crossing on the route. I believe this may well be in conflict with the rules.
I am shocked and saddened by the disqualification of Leif Hoste, Peter van Petegem and Gusev, especially since the Boonen group received no penalty. If the rule states that you must not pass with the barriers down and the red lights flashing, that should be enforced consistently. While it is true that the Hoste group DID cross while the barriers were down, I saw that the Boonen group also crossed while the barriers were down (the only difference was that they crossed AFTER the train instead of before, but the Hoste group crossed safely well before the train in any case).
If the legalism of "rules are rules" is going to be enforced, it must be consistent. I saw that Jean Marie Leblanc was informing Hoste and Gusev about the disqualification. Is this further retribution against Discovery Channel regarding "the Armstrong affair"? If so, this is patently unfair to the trio of Hoste, van Petegem and Gusev. It may not be as bad as doping, or as bad as the tales of helicopters blowing propwash to aid or hinder time trialists in the Giro d'Italia in years back, but is still leaves a bad taste in the mouth!
It's disappointing that a race the calibre of Paris-Roubaix would even have an incident with a train crossing. Fifteen minutes seems to be pretty tight scheduling for a bike race, especially that far into it.
Nevertheless, since the rule was applied to the letter for the first three who crossed while the arms were down it should also apply to Boonen, Flecha and Ballan, especially since it was a double track crossing. While the train had passed, there was no guarantee that another train was not coming on the second set of tracks until the arms lifted. The inconsistency of the application of the rule seems to make absolutely no sense in this case.
You claim that "those riders knew what the rules were", and I agree, but don't you think that Mr. Boonen et al. also knew the rules, and yet blatantly disregarded those same rules? Admittedly, the train had passed, but how did they know that there wasn't another train coming?
Boonen et al. passed through a closed level crossing in disregard to the rules, just as Hoste et al. did minutes earlier. Boonen et al. potentially put lives in jeopardy in the same manner. I know he is the world's champion, and obviously the darling of the UCI and the rest of Europe, but after all Mr. McQuaid, rules are rules.
Despondent for Hincapie,
This is the text of an email I sent to the UCI. Clearly it is my opinion that a bad decision was made. Even the riders who benefited agree. We ought to able to have the UCI reverse their decision or apply it evenly to all offenders.
I have just read the rationale for the disqualifications in Paris-Roubaix and I cannot disagree more with the logic. Clearly, if Hoste, Van Petegem and Gusev are disqualified for crossing the closed level crossing then Boonen and the riders in his group ought to be disqualified based on the same rationale. They crossed the same closed level crossing.
Pat McQuaid states "The train had passed by that point so they therefore knew that the danger was gone. It was different with the first group. If that had been a high-speed train and one of the three chasers was still crossing over the tracks, look at what could have happened." If one looks at the photo there are two sets of tracks and how would they have known whether another train was coming or not? Look what could have happened in that instance.
Our sport has been under a microscope for drugs and cheating and now we have decisions that not being imposed in an even-handed manner. Either you disqualify all who broke the rules or none.
It is my opinion that the decision made was wrong and ought to be reversed.
'Many people have asked why the next group containing Tom Boonen wasn't also disqualified. After all, they too passed through the same barriers while down. However, McQuaid feels that there is an important distinction between the two cases. "The train had passed by that point so they therefore knew that the danger was gone," he argues. "It was different with the first group. If that had been a high-speed train and one of the three chasers was still crossing over the tracks, look at what could have happened."'
This reasoning doesn't really hold up. What if there was a train coming the other way on the other tracks and the barriers were still down waiting for that train?
Very difficult for the riders, and personally I feel the three should not have been disqualified, but maybe placed 5th, 6th, 7th or something (at the back of the next group that finished).
Pat McQuaid’s statement of, "From my point of view, the most important thing is that you must consider all the young cyclists who were watching that television coverage yesterday. If they saw those riders going through those gates and took that as example of what you can do and get away with, you can imagine the potential danger in future races," doesn’t make that much sense.
Holy Smokes, Pat if you believe that, and it does sound reasonable to set an example for the future, etc, what Boonen, Ballan and Flecha did is just as dangerous if not more dangerous an example for young riders. What if another train was coming by in the opposite direction after the first one passed at a set of double tracks, and some young kid crosses the barriers after the first train goes by because Pat McQuaid said it is "safe", and gets schmucked by the second train?
The UCI needs to be consistent.
In response to what Pat McQuaid said regarding the disqualification of the three riders in Paris-Roubaix and more importantly the non-disqualification of the Boonen, Ballan and Flecha group - Pat says the first group went through the barriers after looking to see if there was a train approaching. Fortunately the train was still far off, but I do agree in some respect that they should have waited for the barrier to lift. However they were able to look in both directions for any trains approaching.
I think the decision not to disqualify the Boonen, Ballan and Flecha group was far more irresponsible than the first groups’ actions. After the train had passed through the three riders rode through the closed barriers and didn't even glance to their right to see if there was a train approaching in the opposite direction. This action of seeing them crossing over the tracks with the barriers down after the train had passed through, without being able to see if trains were approaching from the opposite direction, sends the worst message to the young cyclists out there. What if there was an express train coming in the opposite direction?
I was very disappointed that the three riders (Van Petegem, Hoste and Gusev) were disqualified from the results of Paris-Roubaix. The reasons given by the organisers and Pat McQuaid for disqualifying them and not Boonen et al do not seem correct in the spirit or rules of racing. Apparently, Boonen was not disqualified because the train had already passed, but how were they to know it was safe and that another train was not about to pass.
Riders are riders, and surely it was the responsibility of the race organisers to ensure that they could not cross the barriers. Either all of the riders who crossed the barriers should be disqualified, which would have made the result a farce, or none.
Come on UCI, intervene and restore the riders to their correct places!
When PVP, Hoste and Gusev arrived at the crossing 32 seconds behind Cancellara, did the race marshals try to stop them? If they did not then it seems to conflict with a disqualification. The train came about 40 seconds later, as Boonen, Ballan and Flecha arrived. They would have been killed if allowed to cross, so the marshals did their job in this case. But, going back to the first incident, the train was very far away and not close enough to be a threat.
So, my question is this: did the marshals attempt to stop PVP, et al, or did they just stand back, with the realisation that there was no danger? Forty seconds later they must have realised the unfairness that resulted.
My own personal opinion is that the marshals should have stopped the riders immediately if they were on the ball and, failing that, should have sent someone to stop them. The least they could have done is keep the race fair relative to the Boonen group. Furthermore, this could have avoided a complete disqualification and allowed a reasonable penalty to be assessed.
A lot has been said about the chances of Cancellara being caught by the PVP group (unlikely, apparently) but little has been said about the chances of the Boonen group catching the PVP group - and their resulting lack of acceptance of their final placing.
Depending on the answer to my question, the race officials should consider how to staff and equip marshals at critical crossings, and perhaps revisit the results.
Disqualification of the first three riders (Hoste, Gusev & Van Petegem) who crossed the closed railroad gate, during the recent Paris-Roubaix , while allowing the standings for the others who crossed after the train had passed (Boonen, Flecha & Ballan) is a big mistake. Either the rules apply for all those riders who crossed the closed train tracks...or they don't apply to any of them.
For Pat McQuaid to say: "The train had passed by that point so they therefore knew that the danger was gone," is to ignore the real chance that a train was to pass in the other direction. Too many people have been killed by thinking that if a train has passed in one direction, that there will not be one, coming at high speed, from the other direction (look at the photos and notice that there are two sets of tracks at this crossing).
There is an interesting history of how closed railroad crossing have changed the fate of bicycle races in the past, (wasn't there a 1980's Giro where a chase group was prevented from catching the winning Italian breakaway by a gate crossing for a phantom train?). To have the finish of this race affected by the closing of a railroad gate is very unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life in road bike races. Anybody who has raced a bicycle on the open road knows that the rules are there for their safety. Riders in the heat of battle do not always think clearly and ignoring simple, direct rules that they would not disregard if they were in an automobile or not in a race situation, jeopardises both the riders and the future of the sport.
New Jersey, USA
Mr McQuaid is in error on two counts in his comments on the Paris-Roubaix grade crossing incident. Firstly, if one is to apply the letter of the law in one incident (the first group) then one must apply it to all (the second group). Secondly, it was not safe to go around the gates after the train had passed.
If there had been more than one track another train, hidden by the first, could have been coming in the opposite direction. Another train could also have been following the first and maintenance equipment often does this as they are slower than other trains. It sounds like UCI self-justification to me.
Recently in New Mexico, we had several riders disqualified during a race due to riders crossing the railroad tracks. Unlike Hoste's group in Roubaix, they waited for the train to pass. Like Boonen's group, they then circumvented the barriers and continued racing once the train passed. They were disqualified for this. Later, it was discovered that the barriers stayed down since another train was coming.
If safety is the issue, Boonen's group should have been disqualified for going around the barriers.
New Mexico, USA
First, I live in the US and follow your live coverage of the races. You rock. I was crushed when the update mentioned George's crash. I just read the Latest news and I think you should challenge back on Pat McQuaid's argument. First, as a loyal Discovery fan I was disappointed by the loss of Hoste's position, but I agree with the ruling for the reason Pat McQuaid said. As a father, I don't want children to see people rewarded for those types of risks.
There were lots of failures in the race prep, but like you guys said in the live report..."that's bike racing." However, in looking at the photo of the crossing, Pat McQuaid drops his chain in the argument. The picture shows two sets of tracks. Many people are killed because a train passes, they go around the gate, and get hit by the other train coming in the other direction. Pat McQuaid played the "children safety" card to justify the decision, but his failure to take action on the other racers that broke the same rule and probably sent a worse message to kids should be challenged. He said it was safe to cross after the train had passed...give me a break. Thanks for listening.
To whom it may concern,
This year’s Paris-Roubaix race was an excellent spectacle and fully lived up to its usual hype. Unfortunately, part of the drama involved breaking a life threatening rule.
The rule as it appears in the UCI cycling regulations appears below.
2.3.034: It shall be strictly forbidden to cross level crossings when the barrier is down. Apart from risking the penalty for such an offence as provided by law, offending riders shall be eliminated from the competition by the commissaires.
Hoste’s group arrived at the level crossing after the barriers were already down. They made a judgment that they were safe to cross and off they went while the barriers were still down. Boonen’s group arrived at the level crossing after the barriers were already down. They made a judgment that they were safe to cross and off they went while the barriers were still down.
According to Pat McQuaid, “the rules are the rules”. Apparently, that applies only to the first violators. Mr. McQuaid then said about the Boonen group “they therefore knew the danger was gone”. He is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Both groups looked first and then crossed safely. Both groups crossed with the barriers down. Mr. McQuaid is saying that the second group was OK to use their judgment to cross while the barriers were down but the first group was not.
The rules must be applied equally to all. In this case, it is a matter of life and death.
My eyes must be playing tricks on me. I see two sets of train tracks which means that it’s possible a "high speed" train could be coming down the second set of tracks.
No disrespect to Tom Boonen - even he thinks the disqualification is bogus, but more than likely he got a free pass because he’s wearing the World Champion/Pro Tour leader’s jersey.
Pat McQuaid, and the race officials, overlook the fact that the rail crossing has TWO sets of tracks - see the Cyclingnews photo for proof.
When Tom Boonen and his group crossed with the barriers still down, another "high-speed train" (McQuaid's words) could have been coming on the other track from the same or other direction at the same time.
This is an occasional killer in the US. His group should also have been disqualified using McQuaid's reasoning - or all groups should have been given a pass.
From the pictures it appears that Boonen et al crossed two sets of railroad tracks, not one, while the gates were down. Simply because one train passed on one track set does not make crossing safe. The other track set is still active and it remains dangerous and stupid to cross until the gates are up to signify the all clear. Boonen and his compatriots should have been disqualified for the same reason the others were - it was not safe to cross.
McQuaid's explanation for the Paris-Roubaix disqualifications does not cut the mustard, because his attempt to distinguish between Hoste, Gusev and Van Petegem and Boonen makes no sense.
The first group could see that no train was there yet - which is effectively the same as Boonen's group, which could see that a train had just passed. Either way, the crossing appeared clear, but in both cases a high speed train (whether the first or second one) could have been coming rapidly as the gate and lights were still down. In short, Boonen et al could have been "picked off" by a second train just as easily as Hoste's group could have been by the first.
In both cases, the gates and lights were on, and a train could have been coming. For all the riders knew, the risk in crossing was the same in both both cases. In both cases, they relied upon there sight and hearing to cross when the tracks were clear despite the mechanical warnings. In sum, the UCI's ruling is a double standard - technical when applied to the first group, but common-sense when applied to the second.
The UCI decision to disqualify is disgraceful. If the rulings are to be upheld, all riders must stop and must wait until the lights come on and off. The UCI is at fault for not controlling the race as they should - there should have been a marshal at the train crossing to ensure this was done. Pitiful end to a great cobbled ride.
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