UCI highlights new rules in weeks before Tour

Hydration systems, bottles and prototypes targeted

Teams competing at the Tour de France received a communiqué from UCI technical coordinator Julien Carron just two weeks before the start of the race, outlining a number of "clarifications" that the governing body threatened to enforce. BikeRadar obtained a copy of the letter and it's an interesting read:

From: Carron Julien - UCI

Sent: Monday, June 18, 2012 7:48 AM 

To: Undisclosed recipients: 

Subject: Recommandations for the Tour of France 2012 

"Dear Teams,   

You can find the clarification of the technical regulation as it will be enforced during the Tour of France in attached file. The first part concerns the rules on the position of the rider and the second part illustrates the rules related to the equipment used during the race. I would like to especially call your attention to the 5 following points:  

1. The use of the camelback system in competition is allowed, but only if used solely for hydration purposes and without an aerodynamic covering. The liquid container must not be rigid nor present a shape liable to be considered as having the objective of improving penetration through the air and must be limited to 0.5 litres. Furthermore, since 1st April 2012 it is mandatory to use the camelback system only on the back of the rider and to present it to the Commissaires before the start of the race at the risk of being disqualified."

If the UCI is (perhaps rightfully so) concerned about how a hydration system might affect a rider's aerodynamics during a time trial, how is one to distinguish between a system that's specifically designed to improve drag numbers versus one that's solely meant to hold fluid but happens to make someone faster? It's implied that hydration systems aren't to be worn beneath a jersey or skinsuit but there are no specific guidelines mentioned, leaving it to the subjective discretion of the commissaire to make the call.

"2. It is essential that the equipment used in competition meets the prevailing quality and safety standards for bicycles. Mechanics and riders should also be aware of the international safety standards that applies to cycling equipment. They should refer to these standards before modifying or adjusting any bicycle component. Moreover, modifying equipment used in competition in relation to products supplied by the manufacturer is prohibited for obvious safety reasons. Whether it is a matter of modifying the length of the saddle, adapting approved wheels, filing off fork drop-out safety lugs, meeting the 3:1 rule by adding tape to handlebars or adding a nonslip system on the saddle, no modification of equipment that is not conducted by the manufacturer is authorised by the UCI without prior approval. The check of the filing off of fork drop-out safety lugs will start in 2013."

In concept, this is a move in the right direction. Rather than dictate a multitude of seemingly obscure technical requirements for every component, simply require teams to adhere to a well defined standard (in this case, European standard EN 14781) and there won't be any confusion.

However, what exactly comprises a "modification"? This section declares that filing pieces off of a molded or forged part is the same as adding layers of tape to adjust a handlebar's cross-section. The specific mention of "nonslip systems" on saddles is particularly vexing. Safety is one thing (then again, we can't recall ever seeing a wheel self-eject during the Tour de France due to an improperly secured skewer) but actively preventing riders from staying in place on their saddles during a time trial seems like the exact opposite.

At least the dropout rule won't be enforced until 2013 – and that's assuming all of the teams decide to play along.

Specialized have stitched grippy material to an otherwise normal Romin saddle

"3. By virtue of Articles 1.3.004 and 1.3.005 of the UCI Regulations and the Lugano Charter, the UCI has decided to no longer tolerate the presentation of technical innovations in competition as faits accomplis without such innovations being submitted and approved by the UCI in advance, as has all too frequently been the case in the past. Please do not use prototypes or any other innovations that have not been approved by the UCI in advance."

Sorry to break it to you, UCI, but we still see equipment that would qualify as "prototype" although the understanding we have from teams is that this is mostly in reference to framesets. That being said, if your commissaires do find something, what's the consequence? If something that hasn't been approved is found after the race, are you going to disqualify that rider?

Lotto-Belisol's Jurgen van den Broeck used an unlabeled carbon disc wheel in the prologue

"4. To clarify the situation and the possible confusions regarding the positioning of the bottles until the article 1.3.0024 bis comes into force in 2013, the Equipment Unit of the UCI decided to allow the bottles positioned behind the saddle that are not integrated to the saddle, the seat post or the frame. Moreover, the Optima saddle from Selle Italia is allowed even if the bottle cage is integrated to the saddle as this model was approved as technical innovation in 2009. However, this system will not be allowed with a cover; only with a bottle or nothing."  

Newsflash: bottle placement is apparently a hot topic again.

"5. Following the introduction of the approval process for the frames and forks in 2011, the conformity of the approved models will be verified for the first time during the Tour of France 2012 with a 3D scanning system. Some checks can also be done on older models to verify their compliance with the UCI regulations. The checks will take place according to the following procedure: 

• At the finish of the race, a designated Commissaire will mark the bikes that will be checked with an inviolable tag fitted with a bar code. 

• The check will take place at the hotel of the teams after the race between 7 pm and 9 pm; the aim beeing to disturb the teams as little as possible as performing an effective control. 

• Thank you to quickly make the bicycles available to the Equipment Unit of the UCI at the time of the check. 

• The checks will occur after the 8th and 9th stages. In the future, the dates of the checks will not be communicated. 

• All the tagged bicycles will not be inevitably checked. If this should be the case, the concerned teams will be informed about the cancellation of the check by the President of the Commissaires Panel."  

We're not even sure where to start for this one. The UCI's intent is admirable here: use an objective (laser-based?) scanning system to determine that a bike meets dimensional guidelines, with the idea being that commissaire error can be taken out of the equation. However, the UCI's rules dictating when that line is crossed are vague at best, and it's unclear how something that's ambiguous gets translated into computer code.

Framesets fall under the new guidelines for 3D scanning

Second, we'll be utterly shocked if anything fails this test. Frames already have to be submitted to the UCI as it is (remember those fancy decals?) so anything else that could possibly be in violation can easily be fixed before the test is conducted. In other words, the UCI is checking things that they have theoretically already approved. But, otherwise, they're practically telling teams to cheat as long as they fix it before they come and check.

"Thank you very much for your attention to these instructions. I would once again like to remind you that you should not hesitate to contact the commissaires in the event of any problem or doubts regarding equipment. For more detailed information regarding the technical regulation of the UCI, please take a close look at the document in attached file. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all an excellent Tour of France. Please accept my kindest regards.   

Julien Carron"

Carron sent BikeRadar the following reply in response to our inquiry about the letter:

"Dear James,

Modifying equipment used in competition in relation to products supplied by the manufacturer is prohibited for safety reasons and to not cancel the warranty of the equipment. It is thus true that adhesive friction material are not allowed on the saddles if it is not integrated in the saddle by the manufacturer himself.

Similarly, the addition of tape or any other cover to conceal screws or bolts on the bicycle is prohibited, but the rubber plugs protecting the screws that are providing by the frame manufacturer are authorized. The rule says: “A licence holder is not authorised to modify, in any way, the equipment given by the manufacturer used in competition.” and forbidding the addition of nonslip systems on the saddle is only enforcing this article. However, The addition of handlebar tape to improve the rider's grip is authorised, but tape must be identifiable and only used where the rider's hands grip the handlebars."

In other words, using electrical tape to cover holes isn't allowed but if a manufacturer goes to the trouble of molding a part to perform the same function, it's fine. Also, tape on the handlebars is alright but apparently only if it's a product intended for use on a bicycle. As for electrical tape to secure cables and wires, that's still vague.

In fairness, the UCI is to be respected for its desire to keep the sport a competition between athletes, not machines. However, once again, the rules intended to help govern the equipment used raise as many questions as answers. Either way, the goal of the UCI should be to oversee professional cycling in a fair and reasonable fashion, not stifle the innovations that allow companies to pour money into the sport and overly complicate the everyday activities of its participants.

We're all in this together, folks. Isn't it time to play nicely?

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