On Friday, the UCI announced the indefinite suspension of the trial of disc brakes in road races, at the request of the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels. The trial, started last year, saw pro teams permitted to race with disc brakes from the beginning of the 2016 season. Despite the trial, the UCI swiftly stepped in to cease their usage in April, after Movistar rider Fran Ventoso suffered a severe laceration to the lower left leg during the infamous Spring Classic, Paris-Roubaix.
Two teams had chosen to ride with disc brakes during the race known as ‘The Hell of the North’ due to the gruelling cobbled sections which require a rider to exhibit expert bike handling at race pace, often in the muddy, cold, unfavourable conditions of early spring. Ventoso’s accident did not occur as the result of a fall, rather after a brief touch of his leg against the back of the bike in front.
“I keep riding” Ventoso wrote after the incident in an open letter posted on his Facebook page. “Shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane that covers my tibia…” In shock at the sight of his injury, Ventoso pulled to the side of the road and was escorted into an ambulance.
“15k after my incident, Nikolas Maes, a rider from Etixx-Quickstep comes into the very same ambulance…there’s a deep wound in his knee, produced by another disc…”
Ventoso underwent surgery to repair the wound, and called for disc brakes to be banned from professional races. “Disc brakes should NEVER have arrived in the peloton…what will happen when 396 discs get into a race where 198 riders ferociously battle for position? Can you imagine that disc cutting a jugular or femoral artery?”
Although two Paris-Roubaix teams, including Lampre-Merida, expressed doubts that the injury to Nikolas Maes was caused by a disc brake, Ventoso had the support of his Movistar team mate Alex Dowsett, who tweeted about the chaos of crashes, suggesting that injuries sustained by the sharp edges of disc brakes were not impossible to envisage. Team Sky’s Ian Stannard also expressed concern, noting that he had previously welcomed the use of the new braking technology. “They’ve proved quite dangerous. Pro cycling is dangerous enough as it is…we don’t need guys falling on discs”.
The UCI introduced the ban immediately after the incident at Paris-Roubaix, with the French and Spanish Federations going so far as to outlaw their use in sportives – although domestic racers in the US are still permitted to ride bikes fitted with the technology. British Cycling allows the use of disc brakes for cyclocross and mountain biking events, but not on the road. Bike manufacturers will no doubt be keen to find a resolution to the matter, having poured resources and funding into their design and use. The UCI statement hinted at an indefinite ban and delay on re-testing, stating “we are continuing to evaluate the situation, and the test will not restart unless we and those representative groups believe it should”.