Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pulling the Plug

The racing community heard last week that professional cycling's governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), voted to phase out two-way race radios. Tighten your helmet straps, everybody, it's going to be a bumpy night.

For those who don't know, every racer wears a two-way radio that is connected to the team director in the car following the peloton. The director has access to video from the cameras following the peloton, radio broadcasts from the commissionaires on the current course conditions and where the peloton is in relation to the overall course for the day. Sounds good, right?

Those who are for the use of radios cite improved safety and better communication with riders as benefits to keeping them around. When many directors and riders heard of the decision to ban radios, their reaction was that UCI is out of touch with racing and how the game works in the 21st century. When the 2009 Tour de France prohibited radios for Stage 10, the peloton soft-pedaled the stage in apparent protest.

Michael Barry, a professional cyclist who now rides for Columbia-HTC wrote a great opinion piece for expressing why this race radio ban will ultimately be good for the sport. Riders who have never ridden without a director talking in their ear have never had to learn the finer points of tactics and are sometimes incapable of acting without an order in their ear. Sport directors have become puppeteers and their racers puppets, in a way.

What do I think? I've raced my bicycle without a team or radio and I know that it can be done successfully. Just not by me, yet. So a strong rider loses some time due waiting for a flat change because he can't talk to the car? Cry me a river. That's racing! It sucks sometimes, but that's the way the game is played.

I'll keep watching and rooting for my favorite riders, with or without race radios. Without, though, would make things a lot more interesting to watch.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

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