Top cyclists split as UCI radio dispute rages
Plans by world cycling’s ruling body to ban all radio contact between riders and their teams during World Tour races have evoked mixed reactions at the Tour Down Under.
The UCI (International Cycling Union) is pushing through plans to ban the tiny radio earpieces and microphones that have been an integral part of bike racing for more than a decade.
Supporters of the devices say their use has made for safer competition, allowing riders or their teams to warn of debris on the road, dangerous traffic islands or even potentially fatal descents or corners in the high mountains.
But the UCI believes some teams are using the technology primarily for tactical purposes, robbing the sport of its thrills and spills.
The UCI has outlawed their use at junior and under-23 level and wants all radios to be banned in elite World Tour events by 2012.
Teams and riders hit out Monday through their representative association AIGCP, which sent a defiant letter to the UCI saying it would fight the proposals.
“We cannot accept and will not accept these proposals to ban the use of radios and earpieces in top level races,” said an AIGCP statement.
The peloton meanwhile seem split on the issue.
“Half the argument of taking them away is that it would make racing more exciting,” Garmin-Cervelo all-rounder Cameron Meyer told AFP here Tuesday. “But when we’re out on a breakaway it doesn’t change the way we race really… they can help us control breakaways a little but that doesn’t change that much.”
The 23-year-old Australian believes they can even save lives.
“When there’s an oil spill, we can be told about it. Also, on the Giro (d’Italia, in 2010) one of the Rabobank riders went off a cliff after a very dangerous corner and they had to go down and get him. When we were coming up to that corner they were able to tell us about that.”
Frenchman Romain Feillu, a sprinter with the Vacansoleil team, would like to see the radios banned.
“They’re good for giving you certain kinds of information, but when it comes down to the finale of a race they serve no purpose,” he said. “I’m not really convinced by the safety argument. If there’s oil on the road we usually we have a motorbike squadron that ‘opens’ the road for us and can inform us if there are any dangers.
“You could also argue they affect your concentration. I’ve seen guys crash after taking their hands off the handlebars to speak into their radios.”
Some team managers, such as Saxo Bank’s Bjarne Riis, are big advocates of the use of race radios. But while that remains his team’s policy, Danish veteran Nicki Sorensen said: “If they are banned I think we’ll still have a functional team and it won’t cause too many problems.
“But our official team philosophy is that we’re in favour of them.”
Italian Davide Vigano of Leopard-Trek admits the radios have become essential tools for competing more safely. But he believes the peloton could adapt without them.
“It will be harder for the teams, but we’re professional riders and we can use our heads and make decisions,” he said.
“It’s not a big problem. The biggest issue is the safety and if you have a specific problem with your bike. If we had to do without them, it would be hard but not impossible.”
The AIGCP meanwhile is digging its heels in.
“It’s in the best interests of professional cycling that we use race radios. That’s why we will continue using them.”
© AFP 2011