Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

news

Former UCI chief calls for crackdown on “crazy” head-down time trialling after Stefan Küng’s bizarre crash straight into barriers at European Championships

The Swiss rider suffered a fractured hand, a cracked cheekbone, and a minor concussion in the horror crash, as Britain’s Josh Tarling blew away the opposition to take gold

Former UCI president Brian Cookson has called on cycling’s governing body to crack down on the “crazy trend” of riding head down in time trials, after Swiss specialist Stefan Küng rode straight into the barriers in a spectacular and somewhat unnecessary crash during Wednesday’s men’s European time trial championships in Emmen.

Küng, a two-time European time trial champion, had been in contention for another medal in the discipline after passing the second intermediate time check in third place, less than a second off Wout Van Aert’s time, though almost half a minute down on the flying young British rider Josh Tarling.

Stefan Kung crash at European time trial championships (GCN)

However, towards the end of his ride, Küng – riding in the extreme, head-down aero position favoured by most modern time triallists – misjudged the slight change in direction on the road and failed to spot the row of encroaching barriers in front of him.

The Groupama-FDJ rider, continuing to ride in a straight line, then clipped the legs of the barriers, sending him sprawling across the road.

Despite being bloodied and battered in the horrific crash, and sporting a bashed-up, shattered helmet, the 29-year-old continued on to the finish, placing 11th on the day. After crossing the line, he was also seen undergoing a concussion check with members of Switzerland’s medical team.

On Thursday morning, Küng’s Groupama-FDJ team confirmed that their rider had suffered “a minor concussion”, as well as a fractured cheekbone and hand in the crash, which did not require immediate surgery.

“He remains under observation in hospital but will be able to go home today,” the team added.

“Unfortunately, his season is over. In view of the circumstances, Stefan would like to make it clear that his general condition is good.”

Due to the shocking nature of the crash, and the severity of his injuries, many on social media have questioned why Küng was permitted to get back on his bike and ride to the finish at all.

“Stefan Küng should have been pulled from the course looking at the damage to his helmet. Concussion protocols in UCI?” asked one fan on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“He was in no state to judge [whether to carry on], he should have been stopped immediately,” wrote another viewer.

“He’s been let down by those around him. Furthermore, the broken helmet should have meant that officials should have stepped in even if his team wouldn’t. Serious dereliction of responsibility all round.”

Meanwhile, former Garmin pro Phil Gaimon also criticised the tendency within cycling circles to laud riders who get back on their bikes and carry on despite suffering injuries or potential concussion in horror crashes like Küng’s.

“I’m seeing way too many people calling this brave or hardcore,” the American said.

“I’m not blaming Küng 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.”

Stefan Kung after crash at European time trial championships (GCN)

> ​Why pro cycling needs to ditch its ‘hardness’ obsession

Küng’s bizarre spill – a time trialling version of Djamolodine Abdoujaparov’s infamous crash into the barriers on the Champs-Élysées at the 1991 Tour de France – has also prompted a debate on social media concerning the factors that led to the crash, and who was at fault for it.

“What on earth was Küng’s team car doing?! He needed to be told to have his head up,” wrote cycling journalist Tim Bonville-Ginn.

Meanwhile, Jacek Kapela, the father of Polish junior time trial champion Marek Kapela, said: “In a properly organised race, he should be getting directions from the team car behind him over the radio.

“If the team car is not allowed, there should be a marshal there with a whistle. Team car’s mistake or organiser’s mistake, not the rider’s.”

Another Twitter user added: “Why the hell is that fence on the road? Hope he’s okay. Looks like a case of poor race route management.”

However, former UCI and British Cycling president Cookson argued that the crash was a result of Küng’s head-down riding style, which he claims should be banned by the sport’s world governing body.

While the UCI changed its rules concerning time trial positions earlier this year, enabling taller riders to take advantage of greater reach and more height difference between the forearm support and the extension tips of their bars, there are currently no regulations pertaining to the angle of a rider’s head placement while riding against the clock.

“The crazy trend for head down riding in time trials strikes again. The UCI really must look at the technical rules to stop this,” Cookson said.

“Top three riders in all UK time trial championships would have to be DQ’d if they applied that rule,” replied Andy Critchlow.

Josh Tarling wins 2023 European time trial championships (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

(Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Speaking of British time trialists, it was a good day for those raised on their local club 10, as Josh Tarling built upon the bronze medal he secured behind Remco Evenepoel and Filippo Ganna at the world championships in Stirling by storming to the biggest win of his fledgling career this afternoon in Emmen.

The 19-year-old Ineos Grenadiers ride – who has enjoyed a staggeringly successful debut season in the pro ranks, following up his worlds medal with a first WorldTour win in the Renewi Tour time trial last month – led at every time check, covering the 29.8km course in 31:30, beating Küng’s Swiss teammate Stefan Bissegger by 42 seconds and Wout van Aert by 43, for a convincing win that no doubt lays an ominous marker for next season’s races against the clock.

Not that the Welsh rider found the third pro win of his career easy going, however.

“It was hard,” Tarling said at the finish. “I felt weaker today than I did in the worlds. And the wind was really hard. Originally, it was a lot of over and under with the crosswind, but it changed to a more steady crosswind both ways and no headwind or tailwind. It was just about holding a high power all day.”

Tarling’s win capped a great day for for the Brits, as Anna Henderson secured a silver medal behind the rampant, redemptive Swiss Marlen Reusser in the women’s elite time trial, while Zoe Bäckstedt won gold in the U23 women’s TT, beating German Antonia Niedermaier by a whopping 58 seconds.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

Add new comment

30 comments

Avatar
andyk | 9 months ago
0 likes

I don't know all the stats to be fair but it feels like cycling is becoming one of the most dangerous sports out there!

With what's at stake, TT'ers are gonna ride with their head right down, at the road directly below and not that far ahead, they know by various means where major obstacles (roundabouts, turns) are, but the inset barriers at Drenthe were poorly marked, especially when they're part of a what appears a long clear and open straight - they are way less obvious.
In such cases where barriers suddenly come in sharply, why don't they just put temporary spray paint or strong adhesive markings on the actual road 100 meters, then 50 meters out from the obstacle to help warn riders to alter their line?? Or even some alarm/sound warning on approach?? They use lots signs along the route anyway but these can be too high up which is not conducive to TT riding - road markings or sound warnings would help a lot.

I know it's the same for every rider, but it's too easy/simple and arguably hypocritical for some people to say that they shouldn't keep their head down, since every stakeholder wants to see exciting competitive races, super fast times, and riders at their limits; and with what's at stake and the money now in cycling, the riders/teams are gonna do everything they can to win, seeking every minute advantage they can striving for optimal aero, so the organisers have a responsibility to protect the riders and do all they can to make it safer.

Avatar
bobbypuk | 10 months ago
1 like

Not saying there's no blame on the rider here but it was a fairly grey day, that road is grey and those barriers were grey. Under a TT effort you may not be the most observement so wouldn't it make sense to use some big direction areas or something visible? The edge of the road is really clearly visible so it would make sense to follow that and anything other should be clearly marked.

Avatar
ChrisB200SX | 10 months ago
1 like

While not looking where you are going is not the best idea and eventually going to get you into trouble, the real problem here seems to be the barriers.

I can see that barriers might be necessary to keeps spectators and such off the course, but are they the most appropriate course demarcator? Would a row of cones well before the barriers been safer?

The foolish may still fall off after riding into a traffic cone but at least there wouldn't be massive bits of metals legs and interlocking bits to hurt themselves on.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to ChrisB200SX | 10 months ago
1 like

Agreed, I wasn't watching live but from the clips I've seen there don't seem to be any spectators around that section of the course so no reason not to have cones and tape rather than solid barriers that I can see.

Avatar
cyclisto | 10 months ago
0 likes

In professional racing I can somehow accept it.

Seeing guys like that in roads with cars, seems crazy. I have a super tall headtube and a uncut steerer, yet in the very rare moments I get on drops, I feel I don't have good situation awareness.

Avatar
Car Delenda Est | 10 months ago
3 likes

He went full aero, you don't go full aero.

Avatar
glenjamin | 10 months ago
0 likes

Are mirrors banned in pro cycling? I could imagine a little mirror between the extensions would help with holding a head down position.

I've also often thought that a bar end mirror would be really handy for lead out riders

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to glenjamin | 10 months ago
1 like
glenjamin wrote:

Are mirrors banned in pro cycling? I could imagine a little mirror between the extensions would help with holding a head down position.

Belaying glasses, as used by rock climbers to be able to see the climber above without having to get a crick in the neck, would work a treat.

Avatar
Matthew Acton-Varian replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
0 likes

These are not banned, however there are two reasons why they are not comonly used.

1. They are not compatible with TT helmets, especially regarding the visors and their positions.

2. I have seen the odd YouTube cyclist try them over the years and they mess with your depth perception and have somewhat limited field of vision. You could easily misjudge a corner and overshoot because of how disorientating they can be whilst on a bike.

This isn't an issue when rock climbing, which is what these are designed for, as you are making judgements whilst your body is static. You don't have a machine propelling you in that instance.

Avatar
Steve K replied to glenjamin | 10 months ago
0 likes
glenjamin wrote:

Are mirrors banned in pro cycling? I could imagine a little mirror between the extensions would help with holding a head down position.

I've also often thought that a bar end mirror would be really handy for lead out riders

I'm sure I heard some aero expert suggesting that mirrors would be great for improving riders' aero position because they could hold the position without having to move to look round - I think he was talking about looking back rather than forward.

Avatar
tubasti replied to glenjamin | 9 months ago
0 likes
glenjamin wrote:

Are mirrors banned in pro cycling? I could imagine a little mirror between the extensions would help with holding a head down position.

Better than mirrors, how about closed-circuit TV, a minicam on the handlebar and heads-up (down?) display on the goggle lens? A rider could do the entire course without ever looking up.

Avatar
Cugel replied to tubasti | 9 months ago
0 likes
tubasti wrote:
glenjamin wrote:

Are mirrors banned in pro cycling? I could imagine a little mirror between the extensions would help with holding a head down position.

Better than mirrors, how about closed-circuit TV, a minicam on the handlebar and heads-up (down?) display on the goggle lens? A rider could do the entire course without ever looking up.

Best of all - no road or barriers as the TTer is put upon an indoor training thing, where stupidly not looking where you're going has no consequences as you're going nowhere.

On the other hand, what would sport-gawpers do if there wasn't the excitement of crashes and other prat-falls in the sport they gawp at like plebs in the collosseum?  They'd go off elsewhere to find their cheap thrills and the "gladiators" would have to find proper jobs! Also, no exciting "news articles" like this one. Oo-er.

Avatar
Left_is_for_Losers | 10 months ago
1 like

Firstly congrats to Josh Tarling - a star in the making, if not already. I just hope he wears the British bands and not the European  ones in the future!

But - how on earth would someone be expected to police head positions?! We saw in the Tour Down Under earlier this year - teams just go to extremes with road bikes to push the body positioning and equipment. It's just not going to work. 

Avatar
Eton Rifle replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 10 months ago
6 likes

Good to see the EU is still living rent-free in your head. 👍

Is it anywhere nearer imminent collapse yet?

Avatar
Car Delenda Est replied to Eton Rifle | 10 months ago
1 like

If this is the NoToTheEU (or whatever it was) revival account I'm disappointed they didn't go with EUDontOwnMeAnymore

Avatar
Left_is_for_Losers replied to Eton Rifle | 10 months ago
0 likes
Eton Rifle wrote:

Good to see the EU is still living rent-free in your head. 👍 Is it anywhere nearer imminent collapse yet?

Haha - how to say you are a Europhile without saying you're a Europhile 

No as a matter of fact, I'm as National as it gets, but I do believe we would have been better off staying in the EU from an Economic point of view. But now we're out, we gotta make it work - no whinging, just head down getting on with stuff.

Avatar
OrangeRidley replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 10 months ago
3 likes

Not sure why any of you are mentioning the EU at all... Europe is a continent, and this is the continental championship - Brexit can't change geography.

On policing head positions; it's relatively easy. Set a rule saying a rider must be able to see something (a cone or whatever) a set distance in front while in position. Have that as part of the position check they have for bikes, then if people are obviously in a different position on the road penalise them. CTT manage to control it anyway.

Avatar
Backladder replied to OrangeRidley | 10 months ago
0 likes
OrangeRidley wrote:

CTT manage to control it anyway.

No, they don't!

Avatar
Jimmy Ray Will replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 10 months ago
5 likes
Left_is_for_Losers wrote:

But now we're out, we gotta make it work - no whinging, just head down getting on with stuff.

A bit like Stefan Kung in the picture above then? 

Avatar
Left_is_for_Losers replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 10 months ago
0 likes
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:
Left_is_for_Losers wrote:

But now we're out, we gotta make it work - no whinging, just head down getting on with stuff.

A bit like Stefan Kung in the picture above then? 

Depends on whether you're in that camp or the "he should have stopped because of concussion/injuries etc"

Tbh, if he was out of contention for a podium spot by the time he re-mounted he should have just stopped. If still in with a chance, I could understand keeping going. I guess adrenaline takes over at that point.

Avatar
Miller replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 10 months ago
1 like
Left_is_for_Losers wrote:

Firstly congrats to Josh Tarling - a star in the making, if not already. I just hope he wears the British bands and not the European  ones in the future!

You will be disappointed, the EU jersey takes precedence over a national jersey. Soz.

Avatar
Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
3 likes
Quote:

The Groupama-FDJ rider, continuing to ride in a straight line, then clipped the legs of the barriers

A question I have been asking for years is why on earth do we still have barriers with feet that encroach onto the road? Riders take their line from the barriers, not the feet; I noticed in the Vuelta that on many of the finishes the barriers only had feet that went backwards rather than encroaching onto the racing area, and in fact from the picture of Kung at the finish in this article it looks as though they had that type of barrier at that point on the course. Not that I'm necessarily saying this one wouldn't have happened anyway but it seems the most basic safety precaution not to have barriers with feet sticking out onto the road anywhere in a racing situation.

Avatar
ooblyboo replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
4 likes

Didn't look to me like he was taking his line from the barriers - I think he was taking his line from the road and didn't properly see the barriers. Although obviously the feet definitely didn't help the situation and generally agree that they are not a good idea

Avatar
Freddy56 replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
2 likes

You cant blame the barriers for someone riding into them on a 18ft road. Barriers need to stand up it is a gravity thing.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Freddy56 | 10 months ago
3 likes
Freddy56 wrote:

You cant blame the barriers for someone riding into them on a 18ft road. Barriers need to stand up it is a gravity thing.

I didn't, did I, I said different barriers wouldn't necessarily have prevented this - though without the feet he might have brushed the barriers with hands/legs shoulders and been able to save it.

It's perfectly possible to have barriers that stand up without feet sticking out into the racing surface, e.g. these A frame ones in the Vuelta.

Avatar
Matthew Acton-Varian replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
1 like

Those barriers have been used outside of finishes for a long time, and incidents are extremely rare. They also might be what's readily available as they are often hired by race organisers from event equipment hire businesses (the same ones festivals use). They can't cart all those barriers round to every race, the costs and environmental impact would be ridiculous.

The incident highlights a number of factors, and the aftermath which needs addressing.

As mentioned above, you wouldn't normally not watch where you are going, so why are we allowing riders to do this in Time Trials? Yes, there are probably the fewest risks of any situation when riding a bike, but that doesn't mean it's risk free.

It's the responsibility of the riders to look where they are going, the responsibility of DS's and team staff to remind the riders to look where they are going, and it's the responsibility to write and enforce rulings that will deter riders from not looking where they are going.

Following the incident, the concussion protocols should be strengthened to say that in the event of a helmet becoming damaged that the rider wearing it is immediately withdrawn as a precaution unless it is obvious that the rider is free from concussion. Blood being drawn should also have been an indicator to pull him out.

Avatar
chuckd replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 10 months ago
0 likes

A voice of sanity.

If it wasn't a barrier, what if it was something else? A dog, or some kids?

I've done a few TTs (and TTTs) and I cannot for the life of me understand people saying, 'well, he should've been looking up, but what about....?'

What about nothing! He should've been looking where he was going! End of story.

Sheesh.

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
0 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

A question I have been asking for years is why on earth do we still have barriers with feet that encroach onto the road? 

I think it helps them stay upright when the wind is blowing from the other side. I suppose you could apply significant counterweights to all the barriers, but that would increase the cost.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to wycombewheeler | 10 months ago
1 like
wycombewheeler wrote:

I think it helps them stay upright when the wind is blowing from the other side. I suppose you could apply significant counterweights to all the barriers, but that would increase the cost.

Just use A frames like the ones in the picture above. Doubtless a little more expensive but a reusable resource.

Avatar
Backladder replied to Rendel Harris | 10 months ago
0 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:
wycombewheeler wrote:

I think it helps them stay upright when the wind is blowing from the other side. I suppose you could apply significant counterweights to all the barriers, but that would increase the cost.

Just use A frames like the ones in the picture above. Doubtless a little more expensive but a reusable resource.

Difficult to judge from the photo but it looks like he would still have hit the feet of the barriers before his arms/shoulders pushed him away.

Latest Comments