Race radios: what’s changing, what’s not changing

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Race radio

If you were reading the cycling news back in March and April, one ongoing saga was the story of race radios. I’ve had a couple of readers email for the latest. To recap race radios are the portable devices carried by riders that allow two-way comms with the team car. The UCI had banned them for 2011 except in World Tour races and in time trials too.

The idea is that radios allow teams to organise and shut down breakaways, thus making the sport more boring to watch and therefore banning radios could make racing more unpredictable for TV viewers. Like any change, some liked it and some didn’t and those against the ban started to protest and a couple of races almost didn’t go ahead. At times it was about more than the radios, it was an issue on which some team managers decided to push back at the UCI in order try and ensure they have a say in how the sport is run.

After a partial ban in 2011, the plan was to ban radios in every race for 2012. But this won’t be so.

Same rules, different year
2012 will see the same rules as 2011 in terms of when radios can and can’t be used. In other words, not in smaller races but they are ok for all races on the main World Tour calendar, like the big classics and grand tours.

Fine tuning
If the rules on the use of radios remain the same, the punishment for breaking the rules has been upped substantially. Here’s the new rule.

2.2.024 Any rider breaching this Article shall be sanctioned by being prohibited from starting, removed from the race or disqualified, as appropriate, and subject to a fine of CHF 100 to 10,000. Any team breaching this Article shall be sanctioned by a fine of CHF 100 to 10,000 and the sports director and all team vehicles will be prohibited from starting or removed from the race. An infringement committed by a rider leads to the irrefutable presumption of an infringement committed by the rider’s team. The sanctions imposed on a rider and the sanctions imposed on his or her team are cumulative. An infringement is committed as soon as a rider or team appears at an event in possession of the equipment prohibited by this Article. If the prohibited equipment is removed before the start of the event, the rider or team may start and only the fine will apply. If a further infringement is committed during the same event, the result will be removal from the race or disqualification and a further fine of up to CHF 20,000 for a rider and CHF 200,000 for a team.

The short version is that the fine for using a radio at the wrong time sees the rider and their team hit but if they ditch the radios then they can go ahead and race. If they don’t then additional rules allow the UCI or the race commissaires to suspend the whole race. It seems the UCI is trying to ensure protests don’t happen, the sight of a stand off between teams and commissaires was farce that held innocent race organisers hostage.

Summary
Like 2011, 2012 will see radios banned in smaller races. However anyone trying to protest or use a radio in contravention of these rules could see a big fine and the race could even be abandoned. The UCI seems keen to prevent any more protest. These small radios became a big story in 2011 but with the harsher rules for 2012 the UCI will be able to throw the book at any protesters.

Ankush November 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Just the regular UCI way of dealing with things

Ronan November 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm

The usual vague rule writing from the UCI again.

This part in particular: “An infringement is committed as soon as a rider or team appears at an event in possession of the equipment prohibited by this Article. ”

Would seem to suggest a team could be culpable if the equipment is being stored on the bus or in the DS’s car, depending on how the UCI choose to define appearing at an event. Normally you would overlook this and think that common sense would apply, but the UCI does not seem to do normal when it comes to the application of its rules.

Larry T. November 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

So in essence, the UCI caved in on the radio ban (or they have no trouble with the big races being boring for spectators, but think the small ones should be interesting) exactly what I figured had happened when the supposed boycott of the Tour of Beijing quietly evaporated. No big surprise there, they’ve been caving in probably even before the calls came in for anti-doping measures – against which the riders protested from the very start. The riders and directors like to pretend they’re powerless in the face of the mean ol’ UCI but it seems more often than not, they get their way, helped by the bike industry of course. The short-term mentality and resistance to reform is what’s killing the sport – it’s NOT the so-called “broken business model.”

SvelteSoutherner November 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm

In my experience, formulaic racing, ie break-chase-sprint, only occurs with great frequency in the WorldTour. So why ban it ranks where teams are rarely strong enough to dominate an entire event?

Gillis November 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm

@SvelteSouthener:
It’s a systematic attack on radios. If you start with the lower levels of the sport, few carry the weight to argue it and those at the top care little about what goes on in the lower ranks. In time what will happen is that you’ll have a new generation of racers who came up not using radios (at least until they turned World Tour level pro). So when you propose the ban again you’ll have a peleton who are more accepting of the idea. This might take 5-10 years though for enough turnover to occur.
That’s my theory at least.

Gavin November 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

I’d like to see the health and safety argument bottomed out. If radios increase rider safety in a way that cannot be replicated by other means then the riders deserve radios. If they don’t need to be used for safety then there is a reduced argument for keeping them.
I did like the suggestion that all radio conversations should be broadcastable a la formula one. That would add to the viewer experience.

leif November 10, 2011 at 9:57 am

I have listened to some of the available audio in the car and the difference in approach is huge.
Tactical information in a team car is fucking bad ass!
However there are a few drivers that shouldn’t be allowed to scream ‘go go go’ without a bit of words of wisdom or tactical help.
We all know who they are.
Really the top guns of team managers and director sportifs are amazing and yes they will win races with or without radios because they are dedicated to being kick ass and winning.

They are tactically astute.

Bundle November 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm

But why the hell doesn’t the ban enter straight into force, as of now??? Aren’t they obliged to justify their decisions??
Can anyone mention ONE technlogical advance that has improved the sport’s spectator appeal over the last 30 years? One!!
Ban it all! Radios, pulsometers, and all the rest. Only someone who hates pro cycling can disagree with the ban.

Larry T. November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm

All the arguments about having radios and TV’s in the team cars remind me of a recent TV shot (the Giro as I recall) where the team car was driving very close to their rider with the driver shouting some sort of information at him. As the moto camera closed in, you could easily see the occupants of the car were watching MOTOGP on the TV screen! How involved in the event were these folks? Driving right next to their rider rather than using the radio to converse…and seemingly paying ZERO attention to the race coverage available via the TV! But of course they would scream to high-heaven if anyone were to suggest these electronic gizmos be taken away from them. The team directors are like little children, throwing a tantrum when their toys are taken away and coming up with all kinds of BS excuses as to why they should be able to keep playing with them.

John In Bangkok November 11, 2011 at 2:32 am

Maybe the team was letting the rider know how Rossi was getting on! Motivation and all….

The Pelican November 11, 2011 at 5:56 am

Typical UCI… talk hard, act soft! That said, I think they’ve made the right decision. Race radios don’t have a significant influence on the outcome of a stage/race but do have a major impact on the safety of the riders. WTF does a French TV executive know about bike racing… and this is the reason the UCI used to justify their decision to ban the radios. Let the TV exec continue to ride with his fat mates on the weekend and protect the worlds best riders as they entertain the masses.

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