Naked women’s racing

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Now

Because it's not enough fun already

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.

Robert Chapatte

He didn't need a radio

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.

21st century
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.

Exit routes
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.

EDnl March 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm

But, when was it established that racing with radios is safer?

JT March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Interesting on the “no golden age” point. The UCI should be picking fights with the teams that sign dopers.

The Inner Ring March 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

EDnl: very true. But it’s not established that removing them makes racing any more exciting either. Certainly the riders want to keep them and my point is more one of the riders feeling frustrated and put upon, that they are being told to do things and have no say, all to enliven the sport for TV fans and many (not all) *feel* safety is at stake.

JT: that’s another story. If the UCI lets a rider back after a ban, a team is free to sign him. Plus you can flick a radio on and off but doping is cultural, social, economic as well as medical, it’s much harder to stop.

But in reply to both EDnl and JT I’d say that the time, energy and political capital is being spent over the issue of radios when it could be deployed elsewhere.

Tom March 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Fans of the skimpy suit really need to look up Martina Jancikova.
http://www.google.nl/images?q=Martina+JAN%C4%8C%C3%8DKOV%C3%81&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=nl&tab=wi&biw=1461&bih=858

I agree with the opinion that racing with radio’s is safer. I believe it was Stef Clement who saw Pedro Horillo’s bike laying on the edge of the road and informed Breuking of the situation. Given the severity of Horillo’s injuries he was lucky Clement had a radio and was paying attention.
I know this is a rare accident (happily) but these things happen.
I also don’t see how the racing will get a really better. With budgets running well over 10mln €’s per year for the topteams no teammanager can ever tell his sponsors he can’t organise a manhunt for some marauding French youngsters on 14th July. (or any other flat raceday in any of the Grand Tours for that matter)

A big thanks to the Inner Ring for this site btw. Loads of (fresh) quality content on one site is rare these days.

Guillaume March 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I came here expecting more with that title ! But reading the post displays the logic, keeping the radios is the most simple solution.

Oliver March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I think an argument can be made that the radios can be at time dangerous for the riders. I remember a TdF rider last year stating that he thought radios created risky situations. For example when the peloton comes to a sharp turn or a narrowing of the road, all riders are ordered by their respective DS to accelerate to be the first one to get there, thusly creating a dangerous dash to the front….

Plus the fact that studies have shown that even hands free cell phone distract drivers, why would it not be the same for pro cyclists when a ds is shouting something about race tactics in your ears?

Q March 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I really liked Jonathan Vaughters’ open letter on this subject. Basically he didn’t care too much one way or the other until he saw one of his young riders lose a leader’s jersey in a situation where a radio may have prevented it by allowing faster response to a mechanical. Even though I think the arguments about safety and boring racing are way overblown, if radios occasionally allow a deserving rider to preserve his/her position in a race, that’s worth it. That’s why we have team cars instead have having the riders carry spare tires on their shoulders like the good old days.

Josh March 4, 2011 at 2:09 am

Have you seen most female racers? Most need to put on MORE clothes :P

gildasd March 4, 2011 at 9:03 am

What races are you looking at? The Omloop for ladies was full of great, fast, totie. And let us not mention track where the Pendelton roam in vain…
But it’s funny how most ladie racers tend to be smaller… Cavendish small.

Yorkie March 4, 2011 at 10:31 am

Sorry, I got a bit distracted by the first paragraph and didn’t bother reading most of that post – I assume I didn’t miss anything important? On the basis that around 90% of cycling-related articles at the moment are dedicated to either drugs or radios, I’m sure there can’t be anything that new (no offence Mr Inrg).

If we are going down the naked route, can we please start a petition to get Eliza Basso’s ban overturned, and perhaps encourage her back into a sport we will all grow to love ;)

Sampo March 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

Why do only the highest teams need/earn the radios? I don’t hear the ladies complaining, and neither the amateur racers.

Some pro riders also think it safer to ride without radios. More respect in the peloton, I’ve heard.

Personally, I think the best reason for at least reducing radio communication from the team car to the riders is to give smart riders who know how to read a race an edge.

Yves March 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

There s a second part of the Chapatte law which known in France as” théorème de Chapatte” .1part: One minute per 10kms . second part: One Ricard per 10 kms ; Robert Chapatte was also a great tv commentator .His duo with Jacques Anquetil was one of the best duo i heard in France .

The Inner Ring March 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

Tom: yes, I think communications are here to stay. We see it in so many sports, on touch lines in stadiums, in motor racing etc.

Guillaume: sorry if you wanted something else, see the posts by Yorkie / gildasd / josh but maybe let’s not go there!

Oliver: yes, that’s true, hearing voices can distract. But that is a “self-inflicted” problem, no?

Sampo: true but once you give someone thing, it’s hard to take it away. Plus pro fields can have 200+ riders, amateurs and women rarely see such big bunches. At the risk of being “pro radio” (I can see both sides), note the radio really isn’t a remote-control tool. Imagine if you listened to the radio coverage of a race, it’s not like watching the TV feed and it’s hard for teams to control tactics too much although yes it helps teams to organise.

Yves: I only knew his commentary in the late days.

sillyoldbugger March 4, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Excellent first paragraph, but it could be reduced somewhat – “A modest proposal to make women’s racing more exciting:…..they can pedal harder.”

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