Magpie attacks cause chaos for the best riders on the planet at Cycling World Championships as expert warns holding races during swooping season is a ‘recipe for calamity’
- Magpies are attacking cyclists at Cycling World Championships in Wollongong
- Organisers have placed a finish line right near a magpie nesting area
- An Illawarra vet says racing during magpie mating season is recipe for ‘calamity’
The best cyclists on the planet have been terrorised by swooping magpies as they compete at the Cycling World Championships in Wollongong on the NSW south coast.
More than 1000 competitors are down under as the prestigious event is held in Australia for the first time in more than a decade – but it seems nobody told them about the hazard the birds pose from August to October as they defend their chicks and nests.
Terrified Belgian rider Remco Evenepoel (pictured competing in a time trial at Wollongong) says he’s already been ‘chased’ by a bird: ‘I am afraid of it’
Magpie attacks are such a problem in Wollongong that this sign was erected at Lang Park, where the finish line for one of the races is located
The magpie attacks have left some of the sport’s biggest names badly shaken and looking over their shoulders every time they get on their bikes.
‘A fairly large bird came very close [during a training ride] and it just kept following me,’ Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel told CyclingNews.
‘It was terrifying. But that’s Australia, apparently. I hope it’s the only time it happens, but I am afraid of it.’
Amazingly, organisers have put the finish line for one of the races right near a magpie nesting area in the beachside area of Lang Park – where there’s even a council sign saying, ‘Birds swooping! Dismount and walk your bike through this area. Magpies are nesting in this area.’
Magpie attacks are relatively common in Australia during spring
‘I’ve been swooped twice already since being here,’ Australian rider Grace Brown, who won silver in the women’s time trial on Sunday, told Guardian Australia.
‘It’s not just the international athletes that are worried about it. I get pretty scared by magpies.’
Magpie attacks are relatively common in Australia during spring, prompting locals to put plastic spikes on their helmets and take other steps to reduce the risk of being swooped.
However, given the time and expertise cycling teams put into aerodynamic improvements, it’s unlikely riders at the event will change their headgear.
‘Some guys said you have to mount some antennae on your helmet to scare them away, but that’s not so good for aerodynamics,’ joked Swiss rider Stefan Küng last week, after a teammate was swooped.
While most riders’ reactions are light-hearted to magpie attacks, they can be dangerous – in 2019 a cyclist died in Wollongong after being swooped
While most riders’ reactions to the birds so far have been relatively light-hearted, magpie attacks on cyclists riding at high speeds can be very dangerous.
In 2019 a cyclist in Wollongong died after being attacked by a magpie.
The 76-year-old crashed into a fence post as he tried to escape one of the swooping birds and died after being airlifted to hospital in a critical condition.
Leading local vet Dr Paul Parland has told a radio station that he believes magpie mating season combined with racing cyclists is a recipe for ‘calamity’.
‘I know that in the northern suburbs there have been a couple of problematic magpies over the last few years which have resulted in some really difficult situations,’ Parland said.
‘Magpies can be quite territorial and there’s going to be a lot going on in their particular areas.’
Leading Illawarra vet Dr Paul Parland has told a radio station that he believes magpie mating season combined with racing cyclists is a recipe for ‘calamity’
Parland has encouraged people to take care and travel in groups.
‘Swooping birds tend to target people that are by themselves and also people that are moving in very fast ways.
‘Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to slow down the cyclists in their race to take a little side breather as the birds swoop by.’
Magpie Alert, a website that monitors and records magpie attacks in Australia, currently lists over 1,590 incidents so far this year, causing numerous injuries.
Magpies tend to swoop for about six weeks as their mate incubates eggs and while the chicks are very young.