A modest proposal to make women’s racing more exciting: do it naked. The sport suffers from a lack of sponsors and reduced TV coverage. New fans would arrive, TV audiences would grow and sponsorship would rise. It needn’t be fully naked, skimpy outfits work in beach volleyball and something small would be ok for the bike. Obviously it could be cold on the bike but the principle here is to entertain the fans. If the women get cold, they can pedal harder.
Also for men and women alike it’s worth revisiting the pesky trend of helmets and sunglasses that’s taken root since the early 1990s. These days it’s hard to see the riders, the faces masked behind protective headgear and it’s difficult to recognise them. New rules should require riders to go without these additions. It might upset a few sponsors, there could injuries but the public in general would be able to see the suffering so much better.
Back in the real world
In case you think I’ve gone loco, relax. My modest proposal is like Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish satirist who suggested the Irish eat their children as a solution to famine in the 18th century. It’s a response to the pro and anti radio camps. One side says make racing safer, that you can’t go back to the way things were and the other side says the radio has made racing too controlled, that a degree of risk needs to be added back to the racing.
Ironically, given it’s radios, we have what the French call un dialogue de sourds, a dialogue of the deaf. Each side doesn’t understand the other, one side wants safer racing, the other wants riskier racing. The concept of risk is different, the pro radio side is worried about phyiscal safety and communications; the anti-radio side wants the risk in the racing and the results. And yes, there’s politics and power behind all of this.
Most of the big teams and riders – not all it should be stressed – see the idea of racing without a radio as like a request to compete naked or without a helmet. It’s a risk they don’t want and many find it infuriating to be told racing needs livening up at the expense of their safety. Like it or not, many riders feel like this.
No golden age?
I support the idea of making racing more exciting but don’t think radios can be taken away. There was no golden age for exciting racing. History may be full of legends, myths, champions and daring attacks but that’s because we forget the transition stages, the losers and the days we fell asleep watching a dull race on TV.
Go back and look at the results of the Tour de France from the 1960s and bunch sprints were common, names like Van Springel and Goodefroot dominated the results. Over the years squads like TI Raleigh, Panasonic, Superconfex, Flandria and others were just as ruthless in crushing the hopes of a breakaway in order to set up their sprinters. Chappatte’s Law appeared long before race radios.
You could argue sprint trains are even more efficient but if you want to claim it’s radios, I’d cite smoother roads, the tendency for teams to specialise in recruitment and other factors as well. Isolating the race radio is a tricky job.
History aside, some might look at last weekend’s racing and say Het Nieuwsblad was great thanks to the absence of radios. It’s true but is that anecdote or data? Look how radio-less riders brought back Bjorn Leukemans in Wednesday’s GP Samyn and we got a well-timed bunch finish in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne too. Or look how good last year’s both Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne were, despite the use of radios.
More exciting is good. But switching off the radios is only one factor. Just as an imposed rule for naked cycling would outrage the riders, the race radio ban is causing a lot of frustration.
The more I look at this, the more I see a debate that’s not worth it, the public spat between teams and the UCI isn’t helping anyone. If it’s clever the UCI could retreat but slam the door in the AIGCP’s face: allowing radios but not giving any de facto representation to the grouping of teams when it comes to setting new rules. Hopefully lessons can be learned for next time: rule can’t be imposed from the top down.