Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Inquest into Oxfordshire sportive rider's death to focus on event safety

Sam Rowley from Putney died in crash at Classic Oxfordshire Sportive in May

A coroner’s inquest into the death of a cyclist taking part in a sportive in Oxfordshire in May will focus on the safety aspects of the event following a pre-inquest review of the incident.

Sam Rowley, aged 33 and from Putney in south west London, was killed in a collision with a motor vehicle during the Classic Oxfordshire Sportive, organised by Bike Events Ltd, reports the Oxford Mail.

The fatal crash happened at a crossroads at Blowing Stone Hill close to Kingston Lisle, with Mr Rowley, who had been descending, riding into the side of a Vauxhall Zafira being driven by Michele Rostami.

At the pre-inquest hearing at Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court, Coroner Darren Salter said there was “nothing she could have done” to avoid the crash.

"I did see two marshals at the junction but I don't remember being aware there was a cycling event going on,” the motorist told the court.

"I had already seen cyclists but there are always cyclists on the Ridgeway and this was a sunny day," she added.

As well as issues surrounding signage and road markings, the question of how many marshals there were at the location will also be addressed at the inquest, scheduled for November, with the victim’s family saying there was just one positioned there.

"I keep hearing it was an accident but it wasn't, it was an avoidable accident,” said Ken Clifford, Mr Rowley’s stepfather.

"I believe there should have been two marshals at the junction not one,” he added.

"There should have been arrows at the junction and signs as you approach the junction as there wasn't enough time to respond."

Among those who will appear at the inquest will be representatives of the event organisers and Southern Marshalling Services, as well as two police officers who were among the 900 riders who took part in the sportive in 2015 and reportedly had an incident at the same location.

The coroner added that the inquest could result in a “prevention of future death” report being issued to the organisers of the sportive.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

Add new comment

19 comments

Avatar
Kynase | 7 years ago
1 like

I am in  the fortunate position of living about 4 miles from that junction, participating in said sportive (2016 not 2015) and having first hand experience of how well the route was managed!

As it happens, some of the marshalling that day was dreadful. The routes split about a mile from that junction, at the bottom of Dragon Hill. The two young lads sitting there were sending all the riders on the mid length route via the short route cutting it short by some 20 miles. The Course Manager (who I complained to at the finish) didn't even know which way the route was supposed to go at the point!!! There were many frustrated riders at the finish. This is second year I have done this event. Not again.

Blowingstone Hill is very nasty. I have ridden both down and up it a number of times including this Thursday evening. It is well tarmaced on the descent and very straight making it tempting to go fast. My first decent, a few years ago, involved me doing exactly what this poor cyclist did and I flew straight across the junction at the bottom; it is lethal. Even now, as has been mentioned, there is thick gravel across the bottom exactly where you hope to brake. In addition, the white lines have been warn away on this side of the junction (and also the other side of the road,) making it impossible to see when to stop. You can't even see who has priority as Blowingstone Hill is quite wide and looks like the larger road when descending.

It's four months since that accident and nothing has changed there.

Avatar
jonnycondor | 7 years ago
0 likes

As the person in charge of signing up next weekends "BikeOxford" routes, the KEY thing is providing a clear briefing with any cautions, as well as providing clear signage both at the top of the descent, part way down and at the junction.
As someone who was out riding the ridgeway that day and coming across riders on this course, conditions were perfect and knowledge of the junction makes you think that perhaps too much speed and poor braking/lack of time to brake would lead to this.... can't imagine there is any blame on the drivers behalf?

Avatar
vonhelmet | 7 years ago
0 likes

I've seen some really dumb routes for sportives. When I did Liverpool Chester Liverpool there was a long fast descent that ended at a crossroads with no advance warning. If you weren't paying attention you could come to grief there. More recently, round my way near Bolton, I saw route markers for a sportive taking people down an incredibly narrow fast descent to a junction with a fast road with really bad visibility. The descent follows a pretty decent climb up to Matchmoor Lane, which is the highest bit of paved road on Winter Hill that you can ride on (short of trespassing to get all the way to the to mast, and in any case you have to double back if you do that) so obviously somewhat appealing, but it's simply not worth it if you then have to funnel people through that sort of junction.

Avatar
Herbie | 7 years ago
0 likes

Surely this is just a crash, and could have happenened in the same way whether it was in an event or not. Surely either the driver or the cyclist are at fault, and/or some defect of the general road maintenance or signage. If I'm riding a sportive I don't expect the organisers to warn me of junctions or dangerous bends, that should be done by the road autority. If I pull out into a car then that would be my responsibility, or if a driver pulled out into me I would expect that to be the issue. It is good if event organisers add extra warnings and marshalling, but this is a ride on the open road!

Avatar
Saratoga | 7 years ago
0 likes

Regarding the Give Way sign, there is another one 100 yards back up the road: https://goo.gl/maps/7T1xDVu9wvK2. (Assuming I've got the correct direction on StreetView.)

I've almost overshot a junction once where the give way lines were completely worn out and I briefly mistook the centre line of the main road as my give way line.

Avatar
jochta replied to Saratoga | 7 years ago
0 likes

Saratoga wrote:

Regarding the Give Way sign, there is another one 100 yards back up the road: https://goo.gl/maps/7T1xDVu9wvK2. (Assuming I've got the correct direction on StreetView.) I've almost overshot a junction once where the give way lines were completely worn out and I briefly mistook the centre line of the main road as my give way line.

Yes that's correct. That's the pre-warning sign of the junction. Streetview doesn't really show how steep the road is here. You can see how much debris there is on the road just ahead of this sign.

Avatar
Eric D replied to jochta | 7 years ago
0 likes

jochta wrote:

Saratoga wrote:

Regarding the Give Way sign, there is another one 100 yards back up the road: https://goo.gl/maps/7T1xDVu9wvK2. (Assuming I've got the correct direction on StreetView.) I've almost overshot a junction once where the give way lines were completely worn out and I briefly mistook the centre line of the main road as my give way line.

Yes that's correct. That's the pre-warning sign of the junction. Streetview doesn't really show how steep the road is here. You can see how much debris there is on the road just ahead of this sign.

The council have even put a temporary 'skiddy surface' sign just before the skiddy surface - that suggests they are aware of problems, but haven't fixed the drainage to keep the gravel off.
I don't think it absolves them of responsibility at all.

'Slow NOW!' would be appropriate under the 'Give Way 100 yards'?

That junction attracts a lot of unofficial signs - commercial and events - which can be distracting.

Avatar
wycombewheeler | 7 years ago
0 likes

From the street view.

Road markings are poor and should be renewed

Give way sign is far back from the road, obscured by trees until last second?

So if you route a sportive down this hill, it would definitely be worth putting up warning signs.

Avatar
Edgeley | 7 years ago
0 likes

It is more likely than not that the cyclist just didn't stop at the junction.   That is probably because it is at the bottom of a very steep descent and he just didn't realise how fast he was going or how quickly the junction is reached at the bottom of the slope.   The road at the bottom is quite busy.

When there are cycling events there, usually there are signs at the top of the hill warning cyclists that there is a dangerous junction.

I know that area very well, and I would be amazed if the driver was in any way to blame.   I wouldn't normally suggest limiting where bikes go, but I do think that there is a case that the sportif should take a different route.

 

Avatar
davebinks | 7 years ago
4 likes

Dreadful for all concerned, and I'm sorry to hear of this, but based on what the organiser of the nearrby Audax says, the rider should have stopped.

I organise a similar event, but emphasise to all concerned that it's NOT A RACE, and don't give finishing times in order to minimise the temptation to get a "fast" time.

Sportives tend to be ridden as races by non club riders. Club riders have more experience of group riding and how to ride safely.

Re safety signs, I put none out, the Local Authority signs are perfectly good enough for everyone else, including heavy goods wagons, so why do cyclists need special ones? 

Read the road signs and follow their instructions.

I also don't put route signs up, they have to read the route instructions, which warn of hazards such as steep hills, and also means they slow down.

The job of a marshal can only be to indicate the direction the route goes and to provide a visual presence to other road users that there is something out of the ordinary going on. They cannot and must not, attempt to stop or direct traffic, that is illegal and dangerous.

If the event is effectively planned like a race, the riders will treat it as a race.

If they want to race, join a club and ride a real race, one that complies with all the Laws appertaining to cycle racing on the public highway.

Avatar
pdw | 7 years ago
2 likes

I know nothing about this accident, but I know the road fairly well.  The image taken above is at the bottom of a very steep descent through some trees.  As you can see from the image above, the road markings are badly worn, and there's usually gravel leading up to the give way line.  It's very easy to overshoot this junction.  If a cyclist were to do this, and collide with a car on the more major road, I think it would be fair to place no blame on the driver.  

The first time I encountered this descent on one of our club runs, our rider leader warned of the junction at the bottom and I was still nearly caught out by it.  The most obvious thing that could be done to improve safety here is to repaint the road markings and clear the gravel.

If this collision was a result of the rider failing to give way at the bottom of this hill, then I hope that the investigation will focus on why this junction is so easy to misjudge.  Plenty of riders use this road outside of organised events, and don't have the benefit of even one marshal at the junction.

Avatar
jochta | 7 years ago
0 likes

This story is lifted almost word for word from the Oxford Mail story. The driver was mis-quoted and she has asked the Oxford Mail to correct their story. She said she saw two marshalls along the B-road and not two at the junction as quoted. This explains the contradiction between her account and the relatives account.

Avatar
Ush | 7 years ago
0 likes

It does not sound as though any of the marshalls present ( 1 or 2 ?? ) have attributed blame to the car driver.  

 

As it was an open course it is hard to know what could be done.  If it wasn't a car it might be a deer or a sheep popping out in front of the rider. 

 

Hard to know if the coroner is in the blame-the-cyclist game, but he has previously suggested that a bicycle helmet can help if you're hurled a couple of meters in the air by a truck:

http://www.bicyclelaw.com/news/n.cfm/cyclist-jumped-red-light-before-fat...

 

Avatar
jochta replied to Ush | 7 years ago
0 likes

Ush wrote:

It does not sound as though any of the marshalls present ( 1 or 2 ?? ) have attributed blame to the car driver.  

 

As it was not an open course it is hard to know what could be done.  If it wasn't a car it might be a deer or a sheep popping out in front of the rider. 

 

Hard to know if the coroner is in the blame-the-cyclist game, but he has previously suggested that a bicycle helmet can help if you're hurled a couple of meters in the air by a truck:

http://www.bicyclelaw.com/news/n.cfm/cyclist-jumped-red-light-before-fat...

 

 

I believe the wearing of helmets is a mandatory requirement for the classic Oxfordshire rides. Not that it would have made any difference whatsoever in this case whether he was or wasn't.

Avatar
gsej | 7 years ago
0 likes
Avatar
ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
0 likes

Sounds to me like the coroner is exonerating the driver, which implies it was entirely the cyclist's fault? Not sure how the organisers could be responsible, unless they somehow directed these people to crash? Tragic, and most likely avoidable, RTC  2

"The hearing, at Oxfordshire Coroner's Court, revealed Mr Rowley hit the side of a car at the crossroads on the B4506 Kingston Lisle" - So are they saying the cyclist pulled out int fron of the car and hit the side of it? Seems more likely that the car pulled out in front of the bike and the cyclist slammed into the side of it. We can only hope there were witnesses to see that justice is actually done here.

Hmm, seems like the coroner is blaming the cyclist by saying the driver was an innocent victim here. Not closed roads, so just like any other bike v motorised vehicle RTC:

http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Ride.aspx?id=522
http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Generic.aspx?tid=RideRules

Avatar
Notsofast replied to ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
3 likes

ChrisB200SX wrote:

Sounds to me like the coroner is exonerating the driver, which implies it was entirely the cyclist's fault? Not sure how the organisers could be responsible, unless they somehow directed these people to crash? Tragic, and most likely avoidable, RTC  2

"The hearing, at Oxfordshire Coroner's Court, revealed Mr Rowley hit the side of a car at the crossroads on the B4506 Kingston Lisle" - So are they saying the cyclist pulled out int fron of the car and hit the side of it? Seems more likely that the car pulled out in front of the bike and the cyclist slammed into the side of it. We can only hope there were witnesses to see that justice is actually done here.

Hmm, seems like the coroner is blaming the cyclist by saying the driver was an innocent victim here. Not closed roads, so just like any other bike v motorised vehicle RTC:

http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Ride.aspx?id=522
http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Generic.aspx?tid=RideRules

 

Looking at the Streetview pic above, I think it's unfair to say the motorist pulled out, they would likely have been travelling through the junction at which the cyclist failed to stop at the give way line.

Avatar
jochta replied to ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
10 likes

ChrisB200SX wrote:

Sounds to me like the coroner is exonerating the driver, which implies it was entirely the cyclist's fault? Not sure how the organisers could be responsible, unless they somehow directed these people to crash? Tragic, and most likely avoidable, RTC  2

"The hearing, at Oxfordshire Coroner's Court, revealed Mr Rowley hit the side of a car at the crossroads on the B4506 Kingston Lisle" - So are they saying the cyclist pulled out int fron of the car and hit the side of it? Seems more likely that the car pulled out in front of the bike and the cyclist slammed into the side of it. We can only hope there were witnesses to see that justice is actually done here.

Hmm, seems like the coroner is blaming the cyclist by saying the driver was an innocent victim here. Not closed roads, so just like any other bike v motorised vehicle RTC:

http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Ride.aspx?id=522
http://www.bike-events.co.uk/Generic.aspx?tid=RideRules

I was the organiser of an audax event nearby which climbed Blowingstone Hill earlier in the day. Several of our riders saw the aftermath of this incident.

The junction is at the bottom of a steep hill with little to no run off. It's often covered in debris washed down the road after rain (there was heavy rain the day before this incident).

If you are unfamiliar with it and not aware you need to giveway at the bottom it's very easy to overshoot at high speed (40+ mph would be easily achievable down here).

The cyclist involved slammed into the side of the car travelling along the B-road at the bottom having overshot the junction. He was killed instantly. The driver was also injured which shows the force of the crash. There's no way the driver can be blamed.

We always stop club rides at the top of the hill to warn the riders about the crossing. I've known several riders who have gone straight through the junction.

The local council have been called to give evidence. Should the giveway be a STOP? Should there be more advanced warning? The white lines should definitely be renewed more often and the junction swept of loose chippings and stones regularly.

 

Avatar
mike the bike | 7 years ago
5 likes

 

I have no idea what happened on that terrible day and I have nothing but sympathy for those concerned but I hope the result of the inquest isn't to pile another layer of safety requirements on the organisers.

Latest Comments