I hate potholes so bloody much, not least for them forcing me to write a post containing the words "we need to talk about..." literally my least favourite trope of whatever decade we're calling the current one. However, we really do need to talk about potholes. British Cycling also need to talk about them, not least because a couple of weeks ago I sent them an email warning them of the dangerous state of the roads on a widely used race circuit and they still haven't replied. I literally need them to talk about potholes, otherwise it's just me talking to myself, and also it's just a bit rude.
As a bike rider I can put up with potholes, for now, probably because I haven't crashed thanks to hitting one. I'm lucky in that respect. I recently asked riders on social media to come forward with their pothole stories and I was absolutely inundated with broken bikes and broken limbs. Perhaps those people are also lucky ones when you consider that people have actually died as a result of hitting potholes.
I can put up with potholes because I ride alone a lot of the time, and normally that means I can easily spot any gaping fissures in the road and take action to avoid them. In a race it's a different matter. I recently competed in the Lovelo Cinelli Road Race in Buckinghamshire, a brilliantly organised and marshalled race, with full fields of 80 riders in both the men's and women's fields. To take part I needed to stay overnight in a hotel, as well as make the 3 hour drive each way, to and from my house. Add that to race entry and food, and you're talking around £150 to race your bike. I love racing so I'm prepared to pay this money. Who knows, if I win I might recoup two thirds of it.
The race was 2 laps and change of a 50km circuit on open roads. At the race briefing we were warned about the state of the roads and assured that the worst potholes were coned off, the slightly less worse ones had a ring of paint around them. It turns out that a ring of paint is not a forcefield and is of little significance when a race is completely lined out. The rider in front of you is not going to point out a hole in the road when they're putting all their energy into not getting dropped in the crosswinds, and even if they did it gives you the best part of a quarter of a second to react. The lack of warning when it came to potholes was irrelevant in the end as the potholes were often spread across the entire road. The fact that this race was taking place on the same weekend as Paris-Roubaix did not mean that it needed to be a tribute to the Hell of the North. My involvement in the Lovelo Cinelli Road Race inevitably ended with a puncture, as did the races of at least 20 other riders. In my mind it was a race that should not have been run, and certainly did not take into account the risk posed to the riders and their often very expensive bikes. I'm sure that a few riders will have destroyed their wheels during the race, and even more will need theirs servicing, but I don't think that anyone will consider this serious enough to take any action. I fear that what it will take is a serious injury or a death, something that is inevitable if racing continues to take place on such dangerous roads. Ours is already an inherently dangerous sport, there is no need to make it any more so.
I followed up the Lovelo Cinelli race with the FTR Milltag Spring Classic in Wakefield. Again the state of the roads was somewhere close to awful and again my race ended prematurely thanks to an absence of tarmac related puncture.
This weekend I didn't have a race, but I rode over to Yorkshire to watch my teammates in the Geared Up Cycles Road Race. I know the hazards associated with the roads in this area, last year I actually won a race that used these roads. Rolling around behind the bunch I had a chance to think about how I'd take on the course, a thought experiment that involved me considering where I'd need to place myself in order to miss the chasms spread across the apex on at least two of the bends.
I'm not asking that the roads be repaired so that I can race on them. What I'm asking is that race organisers and British Cycling consider the danger they're putting us in. A junior 3rd cat is not going to give up the chance to race and gain a few more points towards their 2nd cat licence, and neither is the thirty-something year old, who has spent all week looking forward to smashing themselves on a Sunday morning. There's very little chance of us organising a riders union to stand up for riders' welfare, and it's unlikely that there's anyone in the bunch who will be a Hinault-esque patron, so we're racing unless told otherwise.
Bike races are way down the list when it comes to councils deciding on the most important reasons to repair broken road surfaces, so we're always going to have to make do with what we're given. I just hope that the brilliant people and organisations who support road racing in the UK can take the danger more seriously, and put rider welfare before getting a race on.