Thursday, November 10, 2011

UCI for a total ban on radios

WorldTour Photo © Pasquale Stalteri Photography / All rights reserved

Due to overwhelming pressure from teams, the UCI has recently decided to postpone the introduction of an outright ban of radios in all professional racing for at least another year. But the concept remains part of the UCI agenda for 2013 and beyond.

With the majority of teams in favour of keeping the radios, the conflict between the sport governing body (UCI) and the team association (AIGCP) has been quite heated over the last two seasons highlighted by threats of event boycotts, protests and outright refusal to abide by the new rules.

Radios have already been banned from use in all except the major tours and WorldTour events causing much friction between the two sides so as the UCI pushes forward towards banning radios in all pro events beyond the 2012 season, the showdown is bound to escalate with both sides planning to stand their ground.

But why all the fuss over radios?

Purists believe that having team managers direct their riders every move is taking away from the spontaneity of the sport. Causing riders to perform on command at the expense of individual heroics. But isn't this part of the natural evolution of cycling as a "team" rather than "individual" sport?

Purists once also resisted the wearing of anything other than black shorts and white socks but this only delayed the inevitable in a world of color.

When players rely on instinct rather than follow team strategy and coaches instruction, the outcome is usually unsuccessful and the concept of team is lost. Which raises questions as to whether we want cycling to continue to evolve as a team sport.

Aside from team strategy, radios are also used to alert riders of danger ahead where a seconds delay can often spell disaster. Therefore banning radios also creates a safety concern.

But banning radios does not seem to be the end of wireless race communication. The issue of effective communication is crucial to the point that teams are already working around the UCI ban on ear buds via subdermal implants.

It has been widely speculated that the Garmin-Cervélo, HTC-Highroad and others have already been experimenting with surgical procedures in order to get round the ban and I imagine that teams will continue to go to great lengths in order to continue using radio technology. Soon the UCI may need to set up an MRI testing center next to doping control.

F1 racing, and every other form of motor racing for that matter, also have their origins in the pre radio era but have long since welcomed the new technology to the betterment of their sport.

So why is the UCI taking such a hard stand on this issue?

Radios in cycling are the way for team directors to keep in touch with their (team) riders in terms of race strategy and safety in the modern era. Going back to having writing boards by the side of the road is not only an embarrassment to the sport but a step backward in a progressively changing world readily embracing technology.

Pasquale Stalteri

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