Important Note(particularly directed at any police officer reading this): my blog expresses a personal view which should not be assumed to be shared by my club or any other body.
Yesterday my club, Thames Velo hosted its annual road races. I rode (rather ineffectively) in the 3/4 event and marsalled the E/1/2/3 event. As a club we take pride in putting on a good safe race and a lot of time is invested in doing our bit to ensure that road racing continues to thrive. However there has always been, and continues to be, an uneasy relationship between the car culture and those who seek to use the roads for non-motorised activity such as a bicycle race. For many years, whilst road racing thrived on the continent, it was illegal here. While the classics developed in France, Belgium and Holland racing in the UK was a clandestine underground affair frowned upon even by cycling organisations (who no doubt feared a backlash if the motoring public were even slightly inconvenienced.) However during World War II cyclists began to organise road races in defiance of their national bodies and in 1960 the relevant government minister, exercising powers under the Road Traffic Act, promulgated the Cycle Racing on the Highways Regulations. Though subsequently amended, these remain the governing regulations. Under these regulations, Road Racing is permitted on the Highway provided notice is given to the local police, who have the power to impose such conditions as they think fit.
Therein lies a problem, as police authorities vary in the conditions that they 'see fit'. This results, for example, in road races in one police authority being cancelled because the police 'see fit' to prevent simultaneous races on the same circuit; whereas the neighbouring police authority sees no problem with this. It is an important democratic prinicple that the police are there to enforce the law not to enact it. Giving the police a blanket discretion effectively to prevent a road race is clearly a matter in need of urgent review.
Second, the safety of road races is best ensured by competent marshalling and escorting (particularly by motorcycles such as the highly expereinced National Escort Group) and not by police discretion. Acting as a marshal I have never encountered a problem with asking motorists to stop for a short period to allow a cycle race to pass; many clearly enjoy the spectacle and express a keen interest on what is occuring. Equally motorcycle escorts seldom meet resistance when they invite motor traffic to stop. Whether motorcycle escorts and marshals have legal powers to force a motorist to stop is for practical purposes largely academic. However some police authorities and officers are so motor-centric that they object to marshals or escorts requesting traffic to stop. For that reason it is now high time that recognised escorts and marshals have the legal power to stop traffic to prevent danger. This works well in Wales and is most needed where the local police authority is least sympathetic to the sport.
Thirdly, some difficulties can arise with an overzealous interpretation or application of the law. Police have been known to object to cyclists being across the road when there is nothing coming the other way and no restriction on overtaking. Speed radar guns are sometimes pointed at escorting vehicles because they (though not of course the cyclists) are required to adhere to speed limits which govern motor traffic. It seems reasonable in the interests of safety, to provide that recognised escorting vehicles may exceed speed limits provided that they drive carefully.
British Cycling is raising the issue of road racing with prospective parliamentary candidates in a facebook campaign which well deserves the widespread support it is receiving. Road racing is a sport which the British have been doing particularly well in in recent years, as any follower of the Tour de France will know. We need a more European type of approach to this sport if it is to flourish and there is a clear need for elected law-makers to take control from the law-enforcers.