Slow progress for racing on UK roads

No short-term solution in sight

British Cycling say they've "continued to progress" in their work to make road racing in the UK safe and cost-effective to run. But they warn there is no solution just yet.

The statement comes in the wake of a number of events in March being cancelled, notably the BikeLine Two Day in Wales, the first round in the Premier Calendar series.

The chief reason for this happening was riders crossing over to the wrong side of the road, an obvious safety risk when there is oncoming traffic.

But no matter what the rules are, using the full width of the road is almost an inevitable consequence of road racing. Unfortunately, closing roads – even partially – is prohibitively expensive for organisers of a 100-mile event where there might only be 100 competitors.

The problem is not a new one and looks set to plague road racing for some years to come. But with Britain looking at building on their cycling success at last year's Olympic Games in time for London 2012, they are stepping up their efforts to change the law.

With three government departments involved it's slow going, according to BC's major events commission representative, Jonny Clay.

"We are continually pushing the right departments within the Government," Clay told BikeRadar. "The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is backing us and working closely with the Home Office, the police and the Department of Transport. It takes some time to pull the right people together."

But has anything concrete been done? Clay said yes, but they're not close to a final solution. That could take several years – if it happens – during which time UK road racing will continue to suffer. 

One of the most promising options is looking at "elements of law [in other areas] that are coming out that could provide fixes". For example, a new piece of legislation that allows construction workers to close roads for a short time could also be used for cycle racing.

The existing laws are one part of the problem. The other is the cost involved in safely marshalling a race. The responsibility for stopping traffic falls to the police, who charge for their time. In other countries such as Belgium, an accredited marshal can legally do this job in exchange for nothing more than a beer and a sandwich.

"I can't see a future where we won't need the police," said Clay. "But hopefully there may be less of a requirement for them. There is an initiative called Community Safety Accreditation that allows marshals to legally stop traffic during road races. That's complicated for us to administer because you have to employ the marshals. If you do that, you run into minimum wage, benefits and so on.

"The difficulty is finding the best option for our society. In terms of elite sport, we're doing well. It's going up, but we're still not Belgium. We need to find something that fits with our motorists that's achievable."

British Cycling are expected to announce their plans for the next four years soon. These will include:

  • Appointment of an events policy officer to help secure the long-term future of cycle sport on the highway.
  • Deployment of 10 full-time regional events officers. These officers will support the volunteers who run cycling events, and help set up a regular club competition (all cycle sport disciplines) at a regional level.
  • Appointment of a  national championship/series co-ordinator who will support event organisers and review all of British Cycling's championships with a view to making them more commercially viable and sustainable.
  • Increased training and education opportunities for event officials, including the expansion of the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme to legally enable accredited marshals to stop traffic during road races.

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