Over the weekend, an ugly wipeout at the Commonwealth Games track cycling qualifiers put three riders and a fan in the hospital and exposed race organizers to scrutiny over safety protocols.
Team England’s Matt Walls flew up the wall, over the railing, and into the seats along with his bike. He proceeded to the hospital from London’s Lee Valley VeloPark along with two other cyclists and a fan.
But according to the spectating family involved in the crash, the result could have been much worse.
The high-speed collision occurred in the final qualifying heat of the men’s scratch race at the Commonwealth Games. In a video shot by one nearby fan, a rider near the front of the pack goes down. That triggers a domino effect that sends Walls, along with the Isle of Man’s Matt Bostock, careening toward the seats.
Hugh Colvin, two of his young children, and some family friends happened to be seated right where they were headed.
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“It all happened so incredibly quickly at the speed the cyclists were going,” Colvin told BBC Sport.
“I was facing the other way because I’d turned my head, but looking back at the photos, it must have been within centimeters, millimeters, of our heads and obviously close enough to graze my daughter.”
Injuries to Cyclists
While paramedics treated Walls and others, race organizers shut down the qualifier right away.
Walls, Canada’s Derek Gee, and Bostock all eventually left for the hospital, with Bostock on a stretcher. A Team England spokesperson told road.cc that Walls hadn’t sustained significant injuries.
“Following medical treatment in hospital, Matt Walls has been discharged with stitches in his forehead, scrapes and bruises but thankfully no major injuries,” the official stated.
Meanwhile, road.cc reported Bostock planned to resume racing as scheduled and that Gee’s injuries were “minor.”
Family Says One Fan Hospitalized With Severe Laceration
Paramedics also treated Colvin’s young daughter at the velodrome. She did not require hospitalization, but the Colvins later confirmed that one family friend did land in the hospital with a severe laceration.
“He suffered a laceration to the bone, which the hospital has described as being like a machete injury,” said Laura Colvin.
“It’s been really difficult for him, he’s still waiting for surgery. In addition to the soft tissue and muscle injury, he’s got a partially severed tendon in his arm, so it is the start of a long road to recovery for him.”
Safety Protocols Scrutinized
In the wake of the accident, Bostock and others spoke up, suggesting that race organizers must prioritize safety more highly in track events.
“There has to be something done because it’s going down as a freak accident, but it has happened before. I don’t know how many freak accidents become a normal accident. I dread to think if it had been worse. It should be a proactive decision to try and make it safer before it’s a terrible accident,” he said.
British Olympian Laura Kenny witnessed the accident and told road.cc, “It’s the third time now I’ve been in a velodrome and witnessed someone go over the top.”
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is responsible for regulations at track cycling events worldwide. The governing body’s safety policies recently came under scrutiny elsewhere, as two serious mass crashes occurred during bunch sprints at the Vuelta a Burgos and the Tour of Poland.
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It published its current ”Specifications for Organiser” in the wake of Fabio Jakobsen’s gruesome, life-threatening crash in 2020. Per road.cc, the rules state that finishing straights must contain safe barrier designs.
But six-time Olympic champion Chris Hoy argued that Sunday’s incident resulted directly from the lack of a barrier above the fencing at the velodrome. “I think it’s preventable if they put a Perspex screen to protect the crowd,” he told road.cc. “I’ve seen a shot of it, and it was horrendous to watch.”
Shawn Dunston, Chief Executive of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, told the outlet that VeloPark complies with international regulations. He added that an accident of this kind had never occurred there. “We appreciate that this was a shocking experience for those involved, and we offer our heartfelt best wishes to all those involved,” Dunston said.