Giro d'Italia 2021 – It’s time to ban sporting directors from driving after Pieter Serry incident
Pieter Serry being sent sprawling by the Team BikeExchange car highlights the need for the sport’s governing body to clamp down on careless driving during races. The solution seems as obvious as it is simple: stop all sporting directors from getting behind the wheel in the first place.
'Awful' - Reaction to team car hitting Serry at Giro
Gino Mader’s morale-boosting victory for Bahrain-Victorious one day after their leader Mikel Landa crashed out of the Giro d’Italia was a thing of beauty – the kind of story that only the sport of cycling can deliver.
Less beautiful was the sight of Pieter Serry being knocked off his bike by a car being driven by a rival team manager who was not even looking where he was going – something also particular to the sport of cycling. It’s a sport where danger is part and parcel of every pedal stroke and yet one whose governing body seems more concerned with sock height and the like.
As the heavens opened above the desolate and eerily empty Sibillini mountains of a little-known and under-populated neck of the Italian woods, we were treated to a cycling masterclass by the so-called “Ineos Gannadiers” – as Filippo Ganna, the man who wore the first pink jersey of this race, came to the front of the peloton to tear the race apart with the help of his teammates, paving the way for a double-pronged attack from Colombian duo Dani Martinez and Egan Bernal on the final climb of San Giacomo.
All this played out as Matej Mohoric put in an absolutely beastly shift for his teammate Madar, the Slovenian climbing, descending and pulling along the flat like a man possessed. Is there a more talented all-round non-specialist cyclist never to have come anywhere near the top 10 of a Grand Tour?
It was a pulsating stage full of spectacle, with plots and subplots bubbling away like a Shakespearean tragedy – not too strong a word in the case of overnight leader Alessandro De Marchi, his veteran compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo, or the antipodean climbers George Bennett and Jai Hindley…
Highlights: Mader claims memorable win on action-drenched Stage 6
The stage should have been remembered for Mader avoiding a repeat of his Paris-Nice heartbreak and getting a result for the hospitalised Landa – as well as for all these other glorious dramas playing out across the board.
After all, we now have a top four on the general classification that is also the top four in the white jersey standings, with Hungary’s first ever maglia rosa leading a Belgian Grand Tour debutant, a Colombian Giro first-timer, and a rangy Russian rouleur back after only featuring for less than two days in his own maiden appearance last October.
The Giro should be celebrating Attila Valter’s maglia rosa, Remco Evenepoel’s comeback from injury, Bernal’s aggression off the back of his team’s total pulverisation of the peloton, and Aleksandr Vlasov’s mature riding under the radar.
Instead, all the talk down the pub – were being down the pub allowed – is of Serry being poleaxed by the Team BikeExchange car. In scenes which an incredulous Rob Hatch described as “unforgivable”, the Belgian domestique, while dropping back from the main field, his job for the day done, was shunted from behind and almost run over.
'Oh my word, disgraceful!' - Team car knocks over rider in shocking incident
A re-watching of the incident shows the BikeExchange car drawing level with one of the race organisers vehicles before someone – probably a soigneur – reaches out of the window to exchange what was reportedly a discarded rain cape. The man behind the wheel – later revealed to be directeur sportif Gene Bates – was clearly distracted, perhaps in dialogue with the people in the other car, and obviously not looking where he was driving. The expression “winging it” comes to mind.
The result could have been far worse: Serry was able to get back up and complete the stage – not before letting his thoughts be known the Bates, who had jumped out to check the rider was okay.
If the whole thing was shocking to see, it was also a sight all too familiar for cycling fans. Incidents with team cars and race vehicles are commonplace in the sport. We can all remember the iconic image of Danish rider Jesper Skibby sprawled out over the cobbles of the Koppenberg as the race director’s car drove over his bike – and almost his legs – in 1987.
And we can all recall the gristly consequences of Johnny Hoogerland being sent flying into a barbed wire fence after a media car knocked over his fellow escapee Juan Antonio Flecha during the 2011 Tour de France.
Only a few days ago, the Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert team of Stage 3 winner Taco van der Hoorn released a video of the emotional reaction of DS Valerio Piva to the Dutchman’s ballsy victory. And as joyous as it was to see the Italian lose himself in the moment with a rip-roaring “Mamma Mia!”, it was, quite frankly, terrifying to see him celebrate with such carefree abandon while in control of a car travelling at not inconsiderable speed through streets lined with spectators.
This is, lest we forget, the same team who so tragically lost their young Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie to a collision with a race motorcycle only five years ago.
Two days after Van Hoorn’s win, in the chaotic finish which ended the races of Landa as well as Frenchman Francois Bidard and the previous stage winner Joe Dombrowski on his 30th birthday, it also emerged that the Qhubeka-Assos team car was involved in an incident when ploughing into the back of another team car in the finish town of Cattolica.
While the car in front clearly put on the brakes quite quickly, the incident could well have been avoided had the convoy not been travelling at such a speed in the first place – and had the driver perhaps been playing more intention. It was almost as if the driver had something on his mind… like a bike race, perhaps, or, more specifically, Giacomo Nizzolo ending his run of 10 second places in sprints with out a win…
For we all know from looking at that video of Piva that when a directeur sportif is behind a wheel, he is also on the radio, reaching back for bidons, looking at his phone, opening and closing windows, glancing though the road book, and doing all manner of other things including – if luck is on their side – wildly celebrating by taking both hands off the wheel and going bat-sh*t crazy.
The UCI have acted swiftly on Thursday’s incident involving the BikeExchange car and Pieter Serry. The driver, DS Gene Bates, has been excluded from the race, the team car will be relegated to last place in the convoy for Friday’s seventh stage, and head DS Matt White has been given the cursory fine of 2,000 Swiss francs.
But that’s not good enough.
If the sport’s governing body can now disqualify riders for taking their backsides off the saddle or their hands off their hoods, then it’s high time a DS suffers the same fate for taking his or her hands off the steering wheel. And the only way you will stop this from happening is by forbidding any DS to be behind the wheel in the first place.
'Awful' - Reaction to team car hitting Serry at Giro
In today’s day and age there is no valid reason for the manager of a cycling team – the person calling the shots and pretty much concentrating on everything but driving – from being behind the wheel of a two-tonne car while in the close proximity of cyclists.
The stuff they get up to in races – and we haven’t really touched on the speeding – would be illegal in any other scenario. The roads being closed to public traffic is not an excuse for these people to treat them like a racetrack; it should only be their riders doing the racing.
So, why not nip the problem in the bud: ban all sporting directors from driving so they can get on with the task they have without putting the riders and fans at risk. Let’s hope the Serry incident is the catalyst which forces the UCI and race organisers to act before the consequences are far more terrible.