Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by SWpix.com
The 19-year-old Spanish road and cyclo-cross prospect died when hit by a lorry while training for her debut season as a professional
My intention this morning had been to watch the Muscat Classic where Mark Cavendish was making his debut for Astana-Qazaqstan. However, as I started to scroll through the latest posts on Twitter my thoughts went off in another direction as I read about the awful news about the death of Spanish cyclist Estela Domínguez.
The 19-year-old was killed after being hit by a lorry during a late afternoon training ride close to the city of Valencia, where she was studying industrial relations and human resources at the local university. The only child of former professional Juan Carlos Domínguez, who now holds a prominent place within the Vuelta a España organisation, Estela was a member of the Basque Sopela team and had recently finished seventh in the U23 Spanish cyclo-cross championship, which led to her receiving an invitation to compete in the U23 race at last month’s World Cup event in Benidorm.
Speaking to El País, Spanish cycling federation president José Luis López Cerrón, a close friend of the Domínguez family, said: “She had lived with her father for her life, she was absolutely devoted to cycling. She began racing at school and was making a lot of progress. It’s a big blow. She had ridden with us in the Spanish federation as a junior. This was her first year as an under-23. She was starting in the professional category.”
One of her racing peers, 18-year-old Sergio Romeo, the younger brother of Movistar professional Iván Romeo, posted a moving tribute on social media. “The only thing that takes me out of this great sadness is one thing. The fact that I promise you wherever you are, that I will never in my life forget who you are, I will never forget the memories I have of you and if one day I have children I will tell them about you. I know it is very little, but it is the only thing I can give back in exchange for everything you have given me, I hope you receive it wherever you are. You will always be in my memory.”
In such dreadful situations, where a life has been snatched away by a lack of carefulness or a moment’s inattention, holding on to these memories is the only refuge for those close to the victim. Almost 30 years on from the death in very similar circumstances of my uncle, Mick Cossins, a British triathlon champion, I still think of him often. I discuss him with my dad, who has long struggled to come to terms with the loss of the big brother he idolised. I recognise him in features of my cousin, his only child. I’m reminded of him when I open the drawer where I keep my t-shirts and glimpse the one we made for participants in a triathlon that was held in his memory. In these small ways, he remains with us.
Inevitably, though, thinking of Mick also brings back memories of his death: the fact that the driver who hit him said he thought it was just a plastic bag going over the top of his car; that the accident could have happened at all on a stretch of the A4 just outside Bath that was so wide it had previously featured a middle overtaking lane.
In the case of Estela Domínguez, initial reports suggest that the vehicle’s driver had been distracted by something, perhaps the light of the setting sun, and hadn’t seen Estela, who was struck and died at the scene despite the rapid arrival of the emergency services. An investigation has been launched into the how and why by the local authorities.
For the rest of us who ride, that suggestion of distraction will, I suspect, trigger thoughts of our own near-misses with drivers who weren’t focused fully on the safety of much more vulnerable road-users around them, perhaps because they were preoccupied by their mobile phone, or because they didn’t have the patience to wait for a safe moment to pass. Even on the comparatively quiet roads on which I ride in the French Pyrenees, I witness drivers breaking the law by using their mobiles while behind the wheel and others passing me well within the suggested minimum limit of 1.5 metres.
Solutions to this danger that cyclists face include hiking the penalties for drivers guilty of such offences and, above all, education. My perception is that as bike uptake increases, so does awareness of this danger because many new cyclists are also drivers. But I also sense that drivers are becoming more impatient and prone to frustration when they encounter cyclists. This is backed up by recent stats released earlier this week by the French road safety observatory, the ONISR, which revealed 244 cyclists had died on the country’s roads in 2022, a rise of 30% since pre-Covid 2019, the last year the figures were calculated.
The Fédération des Usagers de la Bicyclette (FUB), which represents the interests of French cyclists responded to the report by advocating the establishment of a road safety forum. Their president Teodoro Bartuccio, suggested that urgent action needs to be taken to educate drivers. “We’re seeing more and more aggression from motorists, particularly in the countryside where drivers seem most intolerant of cyclists. More than 60% of cyclists who died after an accident were riding outside of city areas,” said Bartuccio.
Knowledge of these stats and hearing about the tragic loss of Estela Domínguez won’t stop me riding my bike, but they do make me more nervous, primarily about the safety of my two teenagers on local roads. I recognise that dangers are inherent in many sports and pastimes, but cycling is one of the very few where the main threat comes from beyond the activity itself. Changing this situation is imperative, whether through more rounded education for drivers, the establishment of safety forums, the introduction of heavier legal penalties, or perhaps even through direct action by cyclists in the shape of strikes or protests. The death of Estela Domínguez and more than 2,400 other cyclists in the EU and the United Kingdom each year must lead to that change.