What are the clichés of a Flemish race? Cobbles and crosswinds come to mind but amongst the others are big crowds, Luc, Rodania and riders exploiting every space possible including the cycle path and kerb.
Only now this last part will be outlawed in 2014. A new UCI rule is coming and any kerb-hopping, path-picking, lane-switching riders will be disqualified.
Here’s the new rule that will come into force on 1 January 2014:
1.2.064 bis It is strictly prohibited to use sidewalks/pavements, paths or cycle paths alongside the roadway that do not form part of the course. Non-respect of this requirement is sanctioned in accordance with Article 12.1.040.14 bis, without prejudice to any other sanctions that may apply.
Note Article 12.1.040.14 bis states the rider is liable for a cash fine and crucially “elimination”, ie disqualification. The rule seems to have two purposes:
- fairness: the course can’t involve shortcuts or easy sections. If the race organiser includes a section of cobbles then they and the UCI don’t want riders taking the easy option
- safety: to stop riders trying to move to up the bunch by exploiting paths and pavements to the side of the road. If you want an example of why this is dangerous, here’s Sebastian Langeveld and Filippo Pozzato:
There’s some ambiguity with the wording with the “do not form part of the course” wording. Take the example in the video above, is the cycle path here part of the course? Presumably not as the race must stick to the road and those trees separate the lane from the road. But often the bike lane can be right next to the road with no barriers, obstacles and the only clue is a painted line so presumably this is ok. Next the offence has to be spotted by an official and this isn’t always the case in a race where chasing riders can be spread over a large distance.
Above all the incident has to be deliberate. Imagine a wave through the peloton sees forces some riders to swerve and so a few have to hop the kerb, surely they can’t be eliminated for this? Perhaps commissaires can just use the elephant rule. What is the elephant rule? It’s not in the UCI rulebook, instead it’s just something that rather than trying to describe an elephant in prescriptive terms (big animal, large ears, tusks and long trunk etc) you just know it when you see one. The same with a race incident, officials can make up their own mind.
But what if the law of unintended consequences strikes? If riders know there’s no escape route then instead of hopping the kerb they’ll have to hold their ground and almost shoulder-check anyone in the way.
Also note there are existing rules that aren’t enforced. Ever seen a mechanic leaning out the window do fix something? Well the rulebook says all repairs must be done by the roadside and when stopped. The difference here is that disqualification beckons for those that use the paths.
You can see why the new rule is coming but at the same time exploiting the terrain to your advantage has been part of racecraft. Knowing that a crucial climb or cobbled sector is coming up is one thing, knowing where you can move up the bunch is another and being able to use a short section of cycle path or maybe just a well-kept piece of grass in front of a few houses has been vital to saving energy.
It’s also made for great TV, take Stybar’s angle-widening hop. The good news is that rides can still use the gutter as demonstrated by Rabo’s Annemiek Van Vleuten.
“Taking the wrong path” seems to be the fashionable excuse these days only next year it might have a more literal sense.
The new rule applies to all races, including someone trying to take a shortcut on a roundabout or another sneaky move. But it’s become part of the lore of Flemish racing to use bit of space going, often because the roads are so narrow in the first place. You can see the safety justifications for the rule but it might be hard to enforce it and a springtime polemic over the disqualification of riders is possible. You’ve been warned.