Opinion

Dizzy and broken: Soler case shows flaws in safety protocols

Marc Soler (Movistar) spoke about feeling dizzy and having the inability to function properly on the bike, but he was still pushed back onto his bike and encouraged to finish the race. Is this really how we want concussion protocols and duty of care for riders to operate in cycling?

Soler was badly injured in the mass pile-up with 47 kilometres to go during Saturday’s stage, the crash caused by a spectator whose sign was hit by Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin that sent dozens of riders to the ground.

The 27-year-old has spoken of suing the spectator after he suffered three fractures, ruling him out of the next month of racing at least. 

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However, what was most alarming from reading his account of the event was how the Movistar team bundled him back on his bike with less concern about his welfare than whether they might avoid being a rider down in the following stages. He did not start stage two due to his injuries.

“The fall happened at a point in the race where the road narrowed and we were trying to be well-placed," said Soler describing the incident, "we were near the front and then I saw all the Jumbo-Visma riders going down and (Mike) Teunissen crashed right in front of me.

“I went flying, somersaulted and landed hard on my hands. They both hurt, and so did my face where my glasses had broken and my shoulders too.

“I tried to get up, but I couldn’t, I didn’t have any strength in my arms. The mechanic pulled me up by my armpits, and I sat on the side of the road, I was really dizzy."

From the description, it's a worrying set of injuries which included an impact to the head and symptoms of concussion and there must also have been extreme pain with his fractures in both arms. 

“There were still 50 kilometres to go," said Soler. "They (the team) told me to try to go on but I don’t know how I did, I couldn’t change gear or brake.

“When I got to the finish, I was worried about the time limit, but I couldn’t even get my clothes off in the bus, they had to cut them off with scissors. Then, when we got to the medical truck, they confirmed my injuries.”

It's not clear whether a concussion was part of post-stage diagnosis, but it seems from the description of the injuries that should have at least been contemplated at the crash site. Then, given that Soler wasn't able to brake, there's clearly potential for him to crash again and exacerbate his injuries. There wasn't extensive coverage of Soler in the midst of the rest of the crash site, so it's hard to judge how much of an assessment of his condition was made, but it's hard to see why he was 'to go on' given the severity of his injuries.

We've learnt so much about the effects of things like the cumulative effect of concussions and the potential for permanent brain damage in recent times, and cycling was one of the last sports to come to the party with a concussion protocol. From the UCI statement about the new protocol, the onus is on the team staff first on the scene to perform a diagnosis, in the midst of the chaos of a crash and also while trying to fix a bike or get another rider back underway.

"In responding to this problem, the protocol recommends that non-health professionals (in particular coaches, Sport Directors, mechanics and riders) be trained for recognising the signs of suspected SRC (sports-related concussion) since they are very often the first people on the scene after a rider falls. 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."

Soler couldn't get up and was dizzy. Those are both stated signs that need to be looked out for. There's been some sort of failure here, in a futile effort to return Soler to the race which he would later abandon.

There's not enough evidence to say Movistar were in the wrong, perhaps Soler's symptoms were not as pronounced as he describes. But it's evidence that the current UCI protocols and their implementation are not sufficient to safeguard rider safety. 


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4 min read
Published 1 July 2021 at 11:56pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger