Wednesday 10 May 2017 13.14 BST
When the three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome complained he had been deliberately knocked off his bike while out training this week, the reaction of most cyclists was not “no way!” but “oh, him too”.
Anyone who regularly braves the streets on two wheels knows that a minority of motorists have it in for them. They can show you the scars of the time that cab rammed them off the road, the forlorn picture of their crumpled steed taken for the loss adjuster. Some of them haven’t saddled up since. Most say the police did diddly-squat when they reported the offender, regardless of number plate and even CCTV evidence.
Just this weekend a member of the Queensbury Queens of the Mountain, a female cycling club in West Yorkshire, was nearly wiped out three times by the same lunatic behind the wheel of a Land Rover in Brontë country. She noted his registration plate and gathered witness numbers, then sobbed all the way home.
A member of my cycling club was returning one night from a short evening ride with her wife. A car drew alongside them and a passenger lent out, grabbed her wife’s saddle and deliberately threw her into the road. They spent a few hours in A&E and called the police. Nothing happened. Once I was riding alone in the Peak District when a motorcyclist thought it would be funny to slap my bottom as he passed, nearly pushing me into a dry stone wall at 40mph. Police never tracked him down.
There seems to be a particular high density of cyclist-haters with driving licences in Manchester, where I live. A lawyer friend ended up in hospital after being run off the road in the city centre, reported it to the police with full details of the offender and … nothing. When he tells this story he is at pains to point out that he never runs red lights or rides on the pavement and “religiously” sticks to the rules of the road, as if occasionally hopping on the kerb to get round some roadworks gives drivers a licence to kill.
Froome was in France training for the Critérium du Dauphiné when he was hit, but it could just have easily been in Britain or the US – or indeed any other country except perhaps the two-wheeled utopias of Denmark or the Netherlands.
One of the wonderful things about cycling, as opposed to football or tennis, is that the world’s best train on the same roads as we amateurs. Most of us will never get to take a penalty at Old Trafford or return a serve at Wimbledon but we can follow the Tour de France by pedalling up Alpe d’Huez or Buttertubs pass. Ordinary roads are a great leveller, but also mean that the pros are just as susceptible to the worst strains of bike rage as a Brompton-riding commuter. Even Bradley Wiggins was hit by a white van while riding in Lancashire after the 2012 Olympics. A gold medal is no talisman against bad drivers.
Froome’s Pinarello bike was “totalled” and the driver sped off. The French police were “brilliant”, he said, but if it really was deliberate the driver should face an attempted murder charge.
There are no statistics for cyclists deliberately hurt by motorists, though 3,339 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s streets in 2015. But Cycling UK, the membership and advocacy organisation, notes that while the risk of deaths per billion miles travelled is dropping as slightly more people start cycling, combine deaths with serious injuries over the same distance and there has been an increase.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Sam Jones, a Cycling UK spokesman, has said there are a number of measures that are “absolutely necessary” to halt this increase. “We believe a mistake on our roads, innocent or malicious, should not result in a death sentence for the cyclist.”
These measures include more space for cycling – networks of high-standard cycle infrastructure – better driver training around vulnerable road users, a more visible roads police presence and a stronger response from the Justice system as outlined by the All Party Cycling Group’s recent Justice and Cycling inquiry.
the police start taking seriously attempts to kill us, Grand Tour victors and civilians alike, it is going to be difficult to persuade more people to risk their lives in the saddle.