Swiss Cycling has launched an internal debrief of Stefan Küng's shocking crash during Wednesday's European Championship time trial in the Netherlands, the federation's manager accepting that they should have better protected their rider so he did not finish the race.
Küng smashed into roadside barriers while riding for a few seconds with his head tucked down, meaning he was not looking where he was riding in the search for an aero gain, but quickly remounted and finished the event bloodied and with damage to his helmet.
The crash prompted former UCI president Brian Cookson to call for a crackdown on the "crazy" head-down time trialling position, but also raised rider welfare questions as many suggested Küng should not have been allowed to continue after such a major impact.
— Brian Cookson OBE (@BrianCooksonOBE) September 20, 2023
The 29-year-old suffered a concussion, a fractured cheekbone and multiple hand fractures, the latter two bone injuries requiring surgery, which will take place tomorrow at the Cantonal Hospital in St. Gallen where Küng was, on Friday, transferred to from the Netherlands.
Swiss Cycling's sports manager has admitted the rider should never have been allowed to continue but pointed to logistical issues that allowed it to happen and make stopping a rider "almost impossible".
"Looking back, we can say that Stefan Küng should not have finished this race," Patrick Muller said. "Everything is happening very quickly. After the fall, an athlete has the reflex to get back on the bike. It's almost impossible to stop them. In addition, we only see the athlete from behind, from the racing vehicle. It is, therefore, difficult to assess the seriousness of the injuries."
While Muller believes it is near impossible to stop a rider in a time trial, when a team car and medical support might not seem to be present at the time of the crash, the UCI rules are clear on the matter and state a rider must be assessed before continuing if they have crashed in a way that could have caused a concussion.
Swiss Cycling will now undergo an internal debrief, Muller confirmed, while Küng was quick to praise the team's doctors, saying his treatment "has been and remains excellent".
"I am in very good hands," he said. "Let's do a debriefing and benefit from the lessons learnt from this debriefing in the future."
Küng's crash was met with a barrage of comments on social media and beyond from fans and riders saying that he should not have been allowed to continue.
Lidl-Trek's Toms Skujiņš on Friday said one of his favourite soigneurs "never let the DS put spare helmets in the race follow cars. Even actively would take them out when he saw them there. Why? Because if you're helmet is broken from a crash, you probably shouldn't be riding."
"Many remember my crash in 2017 where I stumbled, but still somehow got on a bike and barely rode away without hurting myself or others more. It's crazy to me that more than six years on we still make (even bigger) mistakes regarding riding with a concussion," he added.
Retired pro Phil Gaimon also recalled personal experiences of concussions and urged the peloton to "respect their brains".
I’m seeing way too many people calling this brave or hardcore. I'm not blaming Kung at all for doing what he's trained for (and his head just took a hit), but there's nothing inspiring or bad ass about this photo. pic.twitter.com/t2MdNNFwOm
— Phil Gaimon (@philgaimon) September 21, 2023
Küng is expected to be out of action for six to eight weeks, bringing an end to his 2023 season that included top tens at E3 Saxo Classic, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
His place in the Swiss road race squad for today's European Championship road race has been taken by Mauro Schmid, who yesterday made headlines after Patrick Lefevere used his Belgian newspaper column to explain how the 23-year-old had claimed his Garmin was broken, only to disappear off to Las Vegas for a week.
Schmid then amusingly uploaded a Strava file, and some lovely photos, dated 18 August from the Nevada city, recorded on his supposedly broken Garmin Edge 1080.
Back in January, frustration was expressed after Schmid's Soudal Quick-Step teammate James Knox was kicked off the Tour Down Under for drafting a car to rejoin the race, having stopped for a concussion check.
— James Knox (@JamesKnoxx) January 19, 2023
Several pro riders sprung to the Brit's defence, arguing the decision will only encourage others to skip necessary safety checks. Knox shared a photo of his damaged lid on social media, Luke Rowe saying the ruling was "very dangerous" if it encourages others to skip the checks, while Oliver Naesen said it was a "joke".
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.