It seems that the crashes on the historic Kemmelberg in yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem has renewed the debate on the wisdom of the cobbled ascent. Many riders have complained that the jarring of the surface causes water bottles to fall out of riders’ cages creating a hazard. Others say that since there is less of a selection coming into the Kemmelberg, that there are too many riders fighting for front positions before and at the beginning of the ascent. Pat McQuaid says nonsense.
The UCI president feels that danger is part of cycling. He also feels that riders pushing to the front is not a problem of the mountain but a problem of the riders. I think it may be a little of both.
Given the mandate of ProTour teams to ride all ProTour races, there are bigger fields of riders at the classics. Those riders are all at the top level of their sport as the inclusion of ProTour teams leaves out smaller less talented teams. Combine that with the fact that many riders who previously would have skipped any race with cobbles, Belgium, or April in the description are here. These riders are not as experienced in riding races like the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix. That contributes to the added danger.
I don’t think courses should be deliberately dangerous (see some of the finishing circuits in the Tour de France) but I do think that luck is part of the equation that wins a race and that crashes are inevitable. I can’t see taking out the Kemmelberg when we have already seen one classic climb, the Koppenberg removed. A move that is most likely permanent.