Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Race Radio

Today is the first of two TdF stages that is being raced without radios. By and large, the riders seem to be really pissed off about it, too. Some say racing without radios is going backwards technologically, that radios are a natural progression, like carbon fiber and wind-tunnel testing. Some say they make racing safer by alerting riders to obstacles and tricky spots on the course.

On the other side of the argument, the one taken by ASO, the company that own the Tour, people are saying that the radios take the thinking out of the race. The riders just have to wait for their director to give them instructions. Bernard Hinault called radios, "A gameboy with a gigolo on the other end." Riders who see the benefit of racing without an earpiece say that they actually make things less safe, because every rider in the peloton is receiving the same direction for tight turns, i.e. be on the outside or be on the inside, so that all 150 of them try to take the same line through the turn.

I see both sides. And I'm inclined to that latter view, that radios take something OUT of the race by making it too controlled.

I'm not religious about that view though. What I think about today's kerfuffle, with talk of a boycott or a neutralized stage, is that if the teams were going to pitch a hissy, they should have done it back in June when the UCI validated ASO's decision to run two stages sans-radio. That would have been the time to band together and protest, not in the thick of the race.

By and large, I take the riders' side. They were right when, during the Giro, they neutralized the stage in Milan due to parked cars being left on the tight and twisty course. That made sense. It wasn't good to see that stage killed, but the organizers should have had more respect for the riders' safety. And even in this case with the radios, I might prefer to see them race without, but if they really think their safety is being compromised, I have no problem with them using radios.

What I do have a problem with is the disorganization. Pro cycling is always this way. The teams can't get together to speak with one voice. The UCI and various other testing, oversight and race organizations can't agree on protocols. It makes being a fan harder. It injects emotion in all the wrong places and leaves us thinking about rules when we should be watching races.

I love pro cycling. I really, really love it. But, what I like is the race, not the side show.

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