The implementation of a concussion protocol in cycling has become an increasingly important one in the industry as its use in other sports grows along with the understanding of the effect that repeated head trauma has on an athlete's future.
A high-profile incident at the Tour de France involved French rider Romain Bardet, who crashed during Stage 13 of the Tour, got up and fell over again, before he remounted his bike and finished the stage. It was found after the stage that he had suffered a concussion and a small hemorrhage in his brain as a result and withdrew from the race.
The new UCI protocol has emerged as the result of a review and work conducted since 2019 by a group of doctors, scientists and neurologists under the supervision of UCI Medical Director Professor Xavier Bigard.
The main problem with the use of concussion protocols as in other sports is that there, athletes can be removed from play, whereas cycling, particularly road and mountain bike disciplines are constantly moving and taking riders out of the race essentially ends their competitive chances.
In responding to this problem, the new protocol recommends that coaches, sport directors, mechanics and riders be trained in recognising the signs of suspected SRC since they are very often the first people on the scene after a rider falls. From the UCI statement on the protocol:
"The protocol details the signs that need to be looked out for in assessing the condition of the athlete (feeling stunned or dazed, trouble with balance, headaches, slurred speech, changes in vision) and in taking an appropriate decision in an optimal timeframe, either roadside or trackside. Training resources in the form of symptoms cards will be published to help non-health professions detect the signs of suspected concussion. "
If any symptoms are displayed, the immediate assessment would be followed up by a medical examination, and further tests on subsequent days to determine athlete wellbeing.
The protocol also has recommendations for athlete's return to competition, with a period of complete rest of 24-48 hours and not return to competition for a week after an absence of symptoms.
Aside from the concussion protocol there has also been the announcement of a host of changes to increase the safety of riders within races, based around the following areas:
- Safety manager position within the UCI
- Event Safety Managers
- Modernisation of crash barriers, particularly at bunch sprint finishes
An unspecified 'tool' to determine safety problems on race routes
- Stronger regulations around discarding of bottles and other hazardous waste
- More stringent rules surrounding race convoy vehicles
Philippe Gilbert was on the committee making the decisions as one of the riders' union representatives and gave his thoughts after the announcement.
"As professional rider directly impacted by these new measures, I am extremely pleased to have been involved and listened to throughout the consultation process led by the UCI," said Gilbert. "This allowed me to directly express our concerns on important topics such as barrier design and ensuring race convoy vehicles are operated safely around riders.
"I am pleased with the outcome and glad to see that my input will provide greater safety for us, and for the next generation of riders that will follow.”