Majorcan Farce

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The smile gets wiped off

Who won today’s opening stage of the Tour of Majorca, the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca? The answer: nobody.

The riders took the start, completed the race and Tyler Farrar was the first to cross the finish line. But the race has been declared void since many of the riders were using two-way race radios, against a new rule for 2011 that only permits them in World Tour races.

In other words, we’ve seen a giant training ride, only one that was a farce given the roadside spectators, the expenditure by the race organiser, not to mention the TV broadcasters as well as a couple of crashes.

I appreciate the teams and their umbrella group the AIGCP don’t like the new rule, nor do they like the way the rule has been introduced: suddenly and without proper consultation.

But as I’ve said before, this is about more than the use of radios and the opposition of safety concerns and more exciting racing. Pro Cycling, for all its talk of globalisation and multinational brands, behaves like a bunch of teenagers who keep testing their parents limits. This time it’s the turn of the teams to push back at the UCI, if they can say “you have to talk to use before you change a rule” then it’s a short step to authoring the rulebook yourself and shaping the sport as you see fit. In other words if the UCI retreats on the radios, then soon it might find the teams are calling a lot more shots.

Radio interference
One point to note is that I fear some riders are being manipulated here. Some, but far from all, are being whipped into worry about safety when their team managers are more interested in grabbing a slice of the Dollar cake, in playing politics with the UCI. The safety debate has an impeccably moral tone but underlying it is money. This doesn’t apply across the board but it is a factor.

Clear signals
In the meantime, I’d really like to see this debate handled sensibly. Embarrassing a friendly season-opening race in Majorca is a dumb way to go. Now the teams will say “our guys raced but it was the UCI commissaire who cancelled the result” but that’s teenage squabbling. If there’s a problem then it should be discussed directly and if you want to protest, do it directly: the teams can withhold payment to the UCI. Spanish races are already fragile and using them as a stage to score points is not the way forward.

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog February 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm

The race radio issue is just the hot-button issue du jour. If they were smart the pro riders would insist upon the establishment of a UCI Active Pro Riders Commission which is an integral part of the approval process for any rule change affecting them. Otherwise it's going to be something else next month, and next season, and….

TheInnerRing February 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Sure, and I think the riders need a voice. But at the same time, we need some independent authority behind the sport.

My worry is that the protest is a scheme by some team managers to beat back the UCI and increase their power. Were to happen then the riders could well end up being equally weak, whilst their employers gain.

Sadly the UCI is a weak organisation that is struggling for credibility.

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog February 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Sure, the radio issue reinforces the control of the team managers over the riders, too. The riders need to step up as the professionals they are and establish a strong, independent voice in the rule-making body so that this kind of issue isn't repeated every few months.

CyclismoAirN February 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm

A couple of points.

1. The fans still showed up, the riders still raced.
2. Will the organizers still award the purse and prizes.
3. If the organizers made money, the fans were happy, and the riders were happy, who cares if the result was nullified, as that only is applicable to UCI standings, which really is starting to have the same impact as other failed UCI attempts at ruling a sport.

At some point, someone will stop and say to the UCI, "Emperor McQuaid, um, you're not wearing any clothes."

Reno February 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Agreed, on most acounts. Apart from the power-fight and underlying money-argument, I think it's also about having control. The team managers who are most opinionated on this issue and who don't refrain from airing their voices at high volumes, are just the one who benefit the most from controling and directing the course of races from their safe and comfortable cars at the back. It's exactly *that* that the UCI want to lessen. I don't hear any argument on the nay-sayers to the actual reason of the ban. I only hear arguments on side-effects.

But alas, as you well pointed out, there's more going on. I, for one, am not amused by the way this issue is fought over the backs of the organisers, riders and fans. We're having these strikes and public debates for years on end now, where the parties concerned have all winter to come together and find a solution that's most satisfiable to all. But they act like children, yes.. not even teenagers.

A perfect study on the Lord of the Flies' theme :)

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog February 6, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Who is representing the riders IN the UCI? 1 guy, Vasseur, who hasn't ridden for 4 years:

http://www.uci.ch/templates/UCI/UCI1/layout.asp?MenuId=MTI3MDI&LangId=1

beev February 6, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I think it's time to get serious with the UCI – the riders need to put pressure on their federations. ultimately UCI will want to avoid this;

Article 86 (Dissolution of the UCI)
3. The Management Committee shall convene the extraordinary Congress to deliberate on the possible dissolution of the UCI, either at the written request of at least one fifth of the federations or pursuant to a decision taken from among its members by a majority of two thirds of the votes

If you ever need to get to sleep, a quick read of the UCI constitution will show you what a bunch of self serving pricks they are – literally, more than half of their document details how to protect the racket that have going on in order to pay 100 people in a "not for profit" (oxymoron?) empire. And what really gets my goat is Verbruggen is still on the books, and now applying the "UCI power model" to his new agency.

TdF LR – Bugno is the rider rep now, not Vasseur…

btw – i'm agreed on being "race radio agnostic" too. there is a case for and against them, but the riders/DS's have to be honest and admit that they wouldn't be happy with a "not for tactics" radio system in place….

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog February 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Ahh, then UCI just hasn't bothered updating the website, sorry. Bugno hasn't ridden in even longer…. since 1998. 13 years.

Anonymous February 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I am not a fan of the UCI, but I don't understand the idea that they introduced the race radio ban suddenly, & with no consultation – am I wrong in thinking that the women & the u23s have been riding without them for a while, & it was always understood they were implementing the ban gradually?

Now it could be argued that the women & u23s have even less power than the pro teams, so couldn't kick up a fuss, but it hasn't lead to mass casualties (I guess with women's races being limited in length, and the style of racing much more attacking – much more chances of breakaways succeeding in the flat races, etc – it's maybe less of an issue for them too, because they don't have the culture of a 200km mass-ride to the end and a guaranteed sprint finish, it's less of an issue, too)

What's interesting about this, is that it feels like the fight the UCI had with the ASO a few years ago. The UCI is terrible at communicating, and it's very hard to see their added value – so the big teams are right in wanting to kick back. Using issues like the Horillo incident is very emotive, but my feeling is that if it hadn't been radios, it would have been something else. It's a shame, though, that they've chosen something that a lot of fans don't agree with, as the issue to make a stand on…

TheInnerRing February 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm

CyclismoAirN: not sure about prizes but the result is invalidated, no points. Yes the race happens without UCI rules but imaging being a sponsor of the race and knowing the result wasn't official. You'd realise you're dealing with amateurs.

Reno: yes, it's not very good.

beev: I know, the organisation has the capacity to do good but gets confused and the interests of its staff (even just keeping their well-paid jobs) can even clash with the UCI's interests, yet alone more.

TdF: the riders need a good voice, an organiser. They need someone to argue obvious points for them and I'm not sure riding experience is very useful.

Anonymous: yes, and as we saw when the UCI and ASO started fighting it dragged the sport down. Worse, the UCI tried all sorts of threats, eg warning of Olympic bans if riders rode Paris-Nice, only to back down. That's why they don't want to back down and cede more ground again. As you say, this isn't safety alone but a fight over the monopoly of power and authority in the sport. Once you have this, you control the money too.

Matthew Walsh February 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm

You have to feel for the riders — they get dope tested almost 24/7 and barely complain anymore. All they want is their damn radios and still nobody listens. I'm for the radio ban but it's quite a power struggle and the riders need to step it up if they want to win.

hamncheeze February 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

The real loser in this battle today is the Tour of Majorca. This is a race that nearly died in the off-season. I am sure those who injected the cash to keep the race alive in 2011 are not exactly pleased with the return on their investment today. I hope that Qatar is not subjected to this tomorrow. Keep the politics and BS off the race or pro cycling is going to lose out. There are many ways for corporations to spend advertising budgets, and if sponsoring a bike race only to have backroom politics overshadow the race becomes commonplace we are going to see a lot of races suffer and/or disappear.

Michael February 6, 2011 at 10:54 pm

One of the big problems ie rider manipulation is that most of the riders out there aren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. Guys who can put forth articulated, well reasoned opinions are few and far between.

I can think of a few current riders who would be tailor made to act as spokespersons or "union" reps – Michael Barry would be my first choice, Bernard Eisel would be another. I'd throw David Millar in the lot but as he is a part-team owner there would be a perceived conflict of interest.

I for one don't think Gianni Bugno is the one they want representing them full time.

Touriste-Routier February 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

Don't be so certain that the sponsors care about the results not counting. Sure, it is "better" when everything goes as it should, but if the spectators were there, and the media were there, the sponsors get what they want- publicity. If anything, this little stunt may get them more publicity.

The only people outside of the riders/teams who care about the results are hard core fans; the vast majority of spectators & tv audiences are not hard core fans. They are just looking for entertainment, which they received.

While the riders and team managers may be acting like children, the UCI isn't exactly open to considering their ideas. I fear the only recourse they have are defiant acts.

At its basics, all you need to have a bike race is at least 2 people who want to race. The UCI needs to keep in mind the only power they derive is their recognition by the IOC, and their ability to suspend riders/teams who compete in unsanctioned events from competing in sanctioned events.

There are a number of sports that have multiple professional federations, that are successful with the public. If the UCI doesn't get their act together, and work with all sides of their membership, parties who don't care about the Olympics or Worlds, can easily tell the UCI to stuff it, and sanction their own professional races.

Anonymous February 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

The interesting quote in that blog is this:

'nor do they like the way the rule has been introduced: suddenly and without proper consultation.'

The point is that this is not just race radios, this is also how the UCI decided the team licenses, the race calendar, the points system etc – So why the big fuss about race radio's and no fuss from the riders protesting at the arbitrary way that was decided.

Why is it that the teams and riders can organize themselves so effective to protest against race radio's, to protest against increased anti-doping measures, but can't organize themselves to do anything to clean up the sport.

The double standards and hypocrisy of the teams means that they have absolutely no credibility when it comes to complaining about the issue of race radios.

http://justcycling.myfastforum.org/index.php

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