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Cycle safety front page news in wake of Wiggins and Sutton incidents

Dave Brailsford calls for safer roads for riders to be Britain's Olympic legacy...

Cycle safety shot up the media agenda yesterday in the wake of incidents in which Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton were both injured while out riding their bikes, with Dave Brailsford said that a fitting Olympic legacy would be to make the country’s roads safer for cyclists.

Brailsford, performance director at British Cycling and Team Sky principal, made the appeal following the incidents on Wednesday and Thursday that left Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton in hospital. The events of the past two days have resulted in a huge amount of media coverage that has quickly developed into a debate on cycle safety.

The Sun, Times, Guardian, Mail and Telegraph all covered the incidents in depth as did the BBC and other broadcast media - today the front page of the Metro calls for the government to put cyclists first.

Speaking about the incidents 15 hours apart that left both his star rider and right-hand man injured, Brailsford told the BBC: “It’s very rare that we have too many accidents... on a day to day basis, but we’ve got to put safety first and I think we would encourage our riders to ride as safely as possible.

“Maybe a legacy of the Games could be a greater awareness and understanding of cycle safety and just how vulnerable they can be on the roads?”

Wiggins was released from hospital yesterday after being hit by a van near his Lancashire home where he is now recovering, while Sutton, who suffered bleeding on his brain after being struck by a car in Manchester, remains in hospital.

Yesterday, the incident Wiggins was the main story on the front page of The Sun, and today the newspaper leads with an interview with the driver, under the front-page headline ‘OMG! I’ve knocked down Wiggo.’ The wider debate makes the cover of today’s Metro, with the headline ‘Put cyclists first.’

Unsurprisingly in a week in which it launched the second phase of its Cities fit for Cycling campaign, The Times is giving the issue prominent coverage, including a lead article in which it says:

“Some may ask when and how Wiggins and Sutton were cycling, and what they could have done to keep themselves safe. But these are the wrong questions. Cyclists are not uniquely responsible for their own safety. Our roads should not be battlegrounds of injury and blame.

“As you will know, The Times is campaigning for cities fit for cycling, and inherent in this is the idea that this country’s roads should suit the needs of those who travel on them.

“Thousands in Britain ride their bikes for fun and for exercise and thousand more will have been inspired to do so thanks to the efforts of Wiggins and Sutton. The fact that even they find themselves at risk only serves to highlight both the scale and the essential nature of the task at hand. We wish them both a suitably speedy recovery, which in their case should be very speedy indeed.”

Both the Sun and the Daily Mail accused Cycling Weekly as having made a ‘joke’ tweet about the incident by its use of the word ‘SMIDSY,’ short for ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ – although they seem to have entirely missed the point that the acronym is a serious one, used by CTC in its Stop SMISDSY campaign.

Shortly after news broke about the Wiggins incident, the cycling magazine tweeted: “No official announcement yet, but Cath Wiggins had tweeted that the crash had all the hallmarks of SMIDSY.”

Mrs Wiggins later replied saying, ‘I have not tweeted any such thing please remove that and apologise.”

Like The Times, coverage in the Guardian as you would expect displayed a stronger grasp of the essential issues.

Carlton Reid, executive editor of BikeBiz and the man behind the I Pay Road Tax website, penned a piece for the Guardian in which he looked at some of the reaction on social media to news of Wiggins’ crash, including from motorists who clearly believe bikes have no place on the road.

Reid’s article mentioned a Twitter feed, @cyclehatred, that has been set up by “a cyclist re-tweeting the constant stream of Twitter comments that illustrate peoples messed up, ill informed, and frankly terrifying, view of cyclists.”

The retweets by @cyclehatred shows there are a lot of angry people out there who don’t like cyclists, and they don’t mind people knowing about it.

In his article, which unlike the Sun and the Mail gives a clear and concise explanation of the seriousness of the term SMIDSY, Reid says: “No doubt the vulnerability of our champion cyclists will be mentioned at the inquiry and perhaps action will be taken to make Britain safer for all cyclists. In the meantime, the online hate attacks against cyclists won't abate just because one of the injury statistics now involves an Olympic champion.

“If anything, the hate attacks will increase because they can be seen as a desperate kickback against the growing visibility of cyclists. Motorists had better get used to seeing more cyclists out on the roads and, if they feel it's unfair that cyclists overtake them while they're sat on their arses in traffic jams, don't knock 'em, join 'em!”

The injuries to Wiggins and Sutton mean that the issue of cycle safety is now also being discussed in TV and radio as well as in the newspapers, with the BBC among others giving it prominent coverage across both types of media.

It’s unfortunate of course that it should take two incidents involving high-profile figures for the issue of cycle safety to receive such widespread prominence, and many cyclists have rightly pointed out that others go unreported.

Following a year however in which the issue of cycle safety has been steadily rising up the political agenda, first in London last autumn following a series of fatalities then from February this year with the launch of the Cities fit for Cycling campaign by The Times, the coverage of the past 24 hours does underline that it is becoming mainstream. It also comes in a week in which a cross-party parliamentary enquiry has been launched into the subject.

When Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced the RideLondon event which will debut next August and which he says will be London’s Olympic legacy to its cyclists, it was pointed out by many that a lasting and more worthwhile legacy would be safer roads year-round.

With that sentiment now being echoed by Brailsford, the man who engineered Great Britain’s Olympic success and Wiggins’ Tour de France victory, it is to be hoped that the parliamentary inquiry does result in lasting change. At least now, the press is watching.

Simon joined 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.

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