10 Roadside Repairs

Jussi Veikkanen FDJ

It’s a big week month for pro cycling with the exposition of sweeping reforms by the UCI expected in the coming days. We will see what emerges but there’s talk of redesigning the calendar and revising the league system of the World Tour. If half of this appears it could amount to the most significant changes for a quarter of a century.

But ahead of radical reform, what about some quick fixes, administrative equivalents of a roadside repair? Here are ten tidy tips that could be done in days…

End pro contracts in November: I’ve covered this in more detail before, stating pro contracts should run from November to November rather than 1 January-31 December. Why? Because calendar year contracts don’t match the reality if employment. Any rider moving teams for 2015 is already working for their new team today, attending a pre-season camps or accumulating hours in the saddle yet they’re still being paid by their old team and worse, having to ride their old bike and team clothing until New Year’s Day.

Award licences earlier: the Tour Down Under is six weeks away… …but some teams still don’t know if they’ll be in the World Tour and await news from the UCI this week. It matters for a sponsor keen to plan marketing, management trying to plan the calendar and write rosters. It’s also the little details, some teams still can’t order new kit as they don’t know if it needs the UCI World Tour logo or not. All this means reviewing the licence criteria earlier, bringing forward the licence evaluations – perhaps as an option – in order to provide the security sponsors, team managers and riders need.

Timing mats: there’s talk of GPS and telemetry but low-fi and relatively old tech could make a big difference for television. Take Milan-Sanremo when we didn’t know who made it over the Poggio in the first group. Expert commentators did their best to pick out many riders in the murk but it wasn’t ideal. The solution: just place timing mats at strategic points on the course to capture the chips on bikes. Be sure to have a second chip on any secondary bikes.

For more general visibility and practicality the idea of race numbers could be revisited. As mooted last January there’s something comforting about the pre-race ritual of pinning on your numbers but it’s archaic seeing pins and paper in 2015. We could have jerseys printed with a season-long unique rider ID as a textile equivalent before going any further with RFID and geo-location.

Move the CADF: the UCI has created the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation as a separate legal entity to run its anti-doping aspect. It’s supposed to be independent and changes have happened, for example, President Brian Cookson no longer sits on the board… …but he still sits metres away as the CADF sits inside the UCI’s offices. This opens it up to all sorts of soft connections to the UCI. A new office with some distance would signal further independence.

Brand the World Tour: what’s the difference between the World Tour, Pro Tour, Pro Team, World Cycling Tour asked a blog post on here earlier this year. Maybe someone read it because a some of the nomenclature is being simplified for 2015, for example a UCI ProTeam, one of the top-18 squads riding the World Tour races gets renamed as a UCI WorldTeam . But we could see more and the World Tour as a concept and brand could be a lot more distinctive. After all this is cycling’s premium calendar, it’s our version of the Champions’ League, World Series or Formula 1 but often doesn’t feel like it. Sure each event is different but some branding and co-ordination could work.

A World Tour website: a hub website for the calendar would be useful. The old uciworldtour.com website now points to UCI.ch with a page with three “news” stories where one of them is 54 days old. It could be revived as a lively site with content and it could link to events and more.

Compulsory race websites: talking of websites, there should minimum standards for all World Tour races with course maps, ideally exportable into mapping software plus, route profiles, timings and more. They could have some compulsory English pages with the basic info to ensure fans around the world can find out what’s going on. You’d hope events would have great websites in order to offer simple promotion for their own efforts but this isn’t the case, some race websites read like an afterthought. Perhaps some compulsion as a condition of a licence would work?

UCI merchandising: the UCI owns rights to rainbow bands and already polices the use of rainbow bands. It could start selling selling derivative products. Sure the sales won’t be big, especially as the promotional rights to each race belong to each race organiser, but it’s an avenue to explore. A World Tour diary anyone? A t-shirt? An App?

UCI communications: from time to time the UCI website features a story on the World Cycling Center or has a photo of the President shaking hands with the head of a national federation. But there’s not much to illustrate what happens inside cycling’s governing body, the work done by 95% of the staff rather than its President. It might be superficial but reminding everyone that people at the UCI enjoy the sport could help. Staff profiles, posting pics of the lunchtime rides and similar things are subtle ways to remind us that UCI staff don’t spend all day drafting rule changes, suing journalists and filing appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Cycling isn’t broken but there are some quick fixes to think about. The random rapid-fire ideas above might be easier said than done but most are achievable, if not in days then a season. Demonstrating the UCI can manage some easy tasks would provide assurance it can handle heavier lifting like structural reforms. Why reinvent the wheel when a few spokes could be tightened first?

53 thoughts on “10 Roadside Repairs”

  1. All good ideas and most fairly simple and inexpensive to do. Rather than sell anything directly I’d want the branding thing be for “officially licensed products” where the UCI could sell those licenses and take a cut of the sales revenue, which would help pay for the other suggestions. Cookson’s been there a year now, time to start showing some real reforms and improvements over the previous regime.

  2. UCI Communications is a good point: one prominent member of the UCI crew at Aigle is a local Strava Ambassador; he’s out on group rides, organises his own group rides with a Swiss twist; makes good natured comments on Strava and so on. It’s pretty small fry but it makes a difference. He uploads all his lunchtime rides, with photos and comments. For a rider of stratospheric ability he’s very down to earth.

    Recent interview features of Mr President in some high profile magazines (one featuring the pic on your post) also feed the PR machine.

  3. Another excellent contribution INRNG. One would have thought that most of these ideas could be adopted at one committee meeting.

    It will be interesting to see if ANY see the light of day this year !

  4. I enjoy these posts but they’re frustrating precisely because no one’s tried these yet. No doubt there are arcane complicated legal/other reasons for why some of these can’t be implemented in ‘a few days’ (or a season), but nonetheless. Contracts not lining up with the season is particularly boggling.

    I’m slowly coming around to riders having one number for the whole season. I didn’t think it was that important–then I realised just how often riders switch teams and teams switch sponsors.

    A decent phone app would be great. Considering the length of races, combined with timing mats/better use of tech you could not only give commentators/TV a break, but have as part of an app a feature that pushes notifications to your phone or tablet when particular riders (the first to cross a certain point, riders you have marked as ‘faves’) reach certain points. That would be neat but I’m probably jumping waaaay ahead of what’s feasible at this stage! I’d be happy just to have websites be a requirement of licenses, like you said; out-of-date official sites distress me. (If they’re missing someone post these updates, I’m looking for a job. :P)

  5. The problem with these quick fixes is that they don’t necessarily provide a long-term solution for all aspects of the problem and related problems. This could come and bite you in the end, if you work on too many quick fixes that don’t take into account the bigger picture.

    For example on the CADF: it would seem as simple as moving offices to a new location, or even a new country, and denouncing direct ties with the UCI. But what about the stakeholders and related parties? If we are going to redesign the CADF, why not take two steps back and see how we want it to function in tomorrow’s world of sports administration and anti doping?:

    -Who owns the CADF? as in, who do we want to pay for it? UCI? WADA? NADO’s? National cycling unions?
    -Who directly controls it? If not Cookson, who else sits on the board? Who are they elected by?
    -What are its tasks? Work with anti-doping laboratories? Work with organizers for testing? Have a say in the punishment of riders? Which of the above and to what extent?

    The point I am trying to make here is that if you don’t answer questions like these and only keep working on quick fixes, you will end up with a loose-ended organization that will not be able to really do what its supposed to do because of bad design (as I am writing this, I realize this sounds too much like the UCI already).

    Working in the Supply Chain industry myself, I witness this issue on a daily basis: quick patches on individual things that seem broken, while the best gains could come from a more holistic approach.

    • The UCI owns CADF, hires and pays the team members, controls it, etc. 100% under the control of the UCI and their whims. Independence is talked about, and since most people don’t bother to dig a little deeper than what the head of a sports federation says, it’s on course to be as widely misunderstood as the lack of authority at WADA.

      I’d also like to point out the CADF released a very informative 2012 annual report. No 2013 report. Their web presence has vanished. This is not the actions of a federation vested in a cleaner peloton.

    • Very good point, we need a clear vision as to where the sport’s going, a “big picture”. I suppose my concern is the UCI’s past ability to struggle with big changes and leadership issues, so some small improvements would be achievable. Ideally we can do the quick fixes alongside the big changes?

      • Someone smarter than me said ” Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” . There is lots of good that can come from even just a few of these suggestions. A total overhaul of pro cycling might take awhile

  6. About the timing mats, you can have secondary chips on all spare bikes, but I think it’s a lot simpler if the chips are attached to the riders instead of the bike. They could be worn inside their bibs, like they do right now with the race radios and heart rate monitor.

      • Not necessarily, I’ve done running races where your RFID chip is built into the your bib number worn on your jersey. The standard set back would be necessary if used for deciding who wins as the measurement becomes important, but simply as a tracker, it could probably be anywhere on the bike/body.

    • And let’s not forget the challenge of delivering timing chip data from remote locations. The technical details could be very difficult to solve.

      Is there power at the top of the Poggio? Is there a wide-enough timing arch to go across the road? How does the data get delivered to production?

      It should be done, but it might take quite a bit of time to get all the details worked out.

      • Power should be supplied by eager cycling fans powering a generator from static bikes. Of course it would also be a competition to see who can provide the most watts. 😀

      • Details can be worked out but should be feasible, a diesel generator could work and the data is so simple a 2G or even SMS could be used to relay things. Just a suggestion that’s achievable ahead of more complicated measures like geo-location with GPS telemetry.

  7. Some of these ideas are just so appealing. The licensing one, for example.
    But I really like the idea of the chips and such. And an app, maybe like the one for the Tour, that helps you follow races on a device when you can’t watch for real.

  8. The merchandising idea is interesting, but no matter how much it is suggested to the UCI they’ll probably end up producing a cheesy cap 😉

  9. I’m yet to be convinced on season-long numbers. Where this system is used for field sports, the number is used to distinguish that player from others on the same team. The fact that there are two ’11’s on the pitch doesn’t matter. In cycling events the number is to identify a number in the whole bunch and this info I’d used over race radio and needs to be simple and unambiguous. How many ProTour riders are there? Multiply by squad size gives up to 400 riders?

    Then there is them case of the previous winner of an event being no.1. I like that – would be a shame if that were lost.

    Then there are events where ProTour and world tour teams compete together…how would that work? Would they need season-long numbers too?

    • That and the fact some races quite intentionally order the numbers. Race leader gets the first in the series of numbers given to the team.

      The issue of identifying riders is made more difficult when the numbers are sorted some other way.

      I like the idea of the name of the rider printed on the back of the shorts in white.

    • I think season long numbers, combined with the institution of Nov-Nov contracts and earlier announcement of licenses would eliminate all the potential problems, really. Starting in November then, we would know: Which teams are in which Tour level, and which riders are on each team. From there, the team that topped the WT rankings gets the first slots, 001-030 (or however many riders they have on roster), then the next, and so on until all WT riders have an assigned number each season. It allows for quick and easy identification of riders, eliminates the need for pins, has the potential to sell more merchandising/apparel for both teams and the UCI. Season long numbers simply make sense. The only issue that some people could take is that every number will be completely absent from a large portion of races each season.

  10. A few teams do that already, but more for public information than an identifier that the race organisation can use.
    Race radio: “Martin has crashed”
    Everyone else: “…which one?”

    There’s also the fact that team leaders usually have a ‘1’ number; this would be lost with season long numbers.

    To ape INRNG, I think the spokes on the other side of the wheel need more attention 😉

  11. Doesn’t cyclocross already use chips and timing mats? Every time through the finish and sometimes mid-course you get exact splits and rider names. Particularly helpful since all kits are obscured by mud. Where are those chips placed? They switch bikes every other lap.

  12. BMX already has “career numbers” that riders print on the backs of their jerseys (along with their names). They also reserve numbers 1 to 8 for the top eight finishers at the world championships.
    It seems to work well, but you do end up with lots of riders with three-digit numbers.
    The drawback of permanent or season-long numbers for road cycling is you would lose the simplicity of the current numbering format, where each team is within a 10-number range (ie. 1-9 is Saxo-Tinkoff, 11-19 is FDJ etc.), so it would make it harder for officials, radio tour and team directors to quickly scan the numbers and see who’s in the break.

  13. Name on the back of the jersey was done in the late 1970’s on a US domestic team. Sponsor was perhaps Shimano , but don’t recall exactly. Seemed a bit cheesy at the time as anyone who was watching a race it that era already knew the riders. Plus they were on the upper back, so they were not visible.
    That said, think of what a name on a jersey would do for after market sales? Look at football jerseys. It’s not enough to support your team. You have to have the name of the player you like. If I could buy a jersey with the name of a rider I admire, I might just buy a jersey made in this decade.

    • No grown up man should ever wear the name of another grown up man on his jersey. Sorry, but it should be a rule for being a grown up.

      • Thus spake Anonymous

        Less flippantly, wearing other people’s names is not my idea of a good time, but if other people want to do it, it’s not going to ruin my day. Official kits are coated with the names of companies anyway, it’s not that much of a leap.

        The main issue I see is that it seems to be the richest teams that have the biggest superstars right now, and since cycling fans seem less in number and more… self-conscious? 🙂 than football fans, they’d probably sell a few named jerseys but I don’t know if they’d make anything more than their definition of ‘pocket money’.

        So in relation to this post, I don’t think personalised jerseys are a compelling reason for teams to argue for all-season numbers to the UCI.

  14. The fact that INRNG keeps pointing out the woeful UCI website strikes at the heart of the issue.

    These are old school/good boy network types who have no clue on how to connect their product to the modern world. Nor do they necessarily have a desire. Sometimes it seems the sport exists for their benefit alone.

    I love the sport but the governing body acts in it’s best interests, which are power plays and blatant attempts at controlling the revenue stream of the sport. At times it makes me want to vomit.

  15. Could the numbering not be contingent on your performance in the WorldTour (or whatever we will call it)?

    That would increase the incentive. Like a rainbow band, you would wear the number 1 for the year if you were the WorldTourist of the year. It could get a bit of cachet.

    The commentators love a little factoid like rainbow bands on the sleeve to talk about when things go a bit quiet. I’m sure they’d be bigging up the number 1 guy the whole time.

  16. Numbers

    I like the idea. Why we can;t have 21 number 4’s or 21 number 23’s is beyond me. Each team numbers it riders at the start of the season 1-30. They keep this for the season and in the casse of big name riders you can see them taking the number with them across teams. aka Michael Jordan #23.

    This would make it easier for commentators who would easily know who is in the break. No need to scan a race dossier. This would make it easier for fans to identify their favourite and it would make it heaps easier for non cycling followers to identify the big stars on the TV.

    Very simple and very effective. Can;t see why it isn;t done already.

  17. First I certainly would watch more races and if I had numbers on riders I would be able identify a rider by number andctesm. For instance to me _#56 is forever Lawrence Taylor. Imagine purchasing #26, from trek team cacellero Jersey. Count me in. From there I would not mind a UCI desk calendar for 2015 with a desk set. There is do much out there that as someone said. Too simple. I am all for the above.

  18. numbered and coloured rain jackets also pls… (altho that increases the possibility of a domestic slipping on the team leaders jacket and disappearing up the road causing panic in the peleton etc etc… could be fun!)

  19. The only sound idea here is for races to be as similar, in every way, to 1974, as possible. It is the only serious way to go about everything. But Kookson has already proved his worth with the Hour Record: he’s ready to trade meaning for events. Eventful meaninglessness. Nothing else can be expected of this character, except his departure, asap.

    • A bit harsh. Why have an event that nobody is bothered with attempting? It’s like having a book in a library that no one is allowed to read. Pointless. How many hour record attempts have there been in the past few months, with more promised? – that all stacks up to more interest in the event that there has been in the past decade. Hats off to Cookson for bringing the hour record back.

      • I’d tend to agree. The “Merckx” record is never comparable, you might have the same position and cosmetically the same bike but the bike can have all sorts of improvements from bladed spokes to ceramic bearings while the rider has modern clothing which offers real advantages. For me at least if you’re allowed to use a bike to set a record for 4km in the pursuit it should be legal for the hour. But the whole subject’s for another debate, both sides have valid arguments and comparing today’s riders to the past is always good for fun.

      • It’s the Hour as a token of the whole attitude. When someone acknowledges that Lavaredo 74 or Pra-Loup 76 or anything else of the kind is deeper, superior and more of the real thing than anything Cookson or anyone these days seems to think “conceivable” or “realistic”, then we’ll be talking and have an idea of what races should be like. Sorry to sound retro or harsh, but to me it’s very obvious.

    • I agree with the part that often many people (and it isn’t only the UCI) have no clear concept of what it is they are watching, deciding or doing. But this isn’t only cycling’s, not even only sports problem. Cycling has to find it’s place in the big madhouse the world today is. What is the purpose of a competition or a race? Is it pure entertainment and passing time, then it is very hard to argue against putting money, publicity, business and gaining before everything else. Is it to have a purpose, a meaning, should and can we gain anything from it apart from a few hours passed by pleaseantly or not so pleaseantly? And WHAT could that be? And when these fundamental questions are answered there has to be a clear commitment and (and this is the crucial point) this also means accepting responsibility and comitting to one direction, accepting that maybe there is (for a short time) less money to make. These days many deciders have a real problem with commitment, with responsibility and with saying no (in public), because they are afraid they can be held accountible on their actions or words, they are afraid to be criticized, they are afraid they might loose (god forbid!) 12 viewers in the next year, to have a bad image and so on. In the end, if not stopped, cycling really will just consume itself and with every year become more silly and meaningless.
      I don’t think cycling is generally broken as some say. I just think that it needs a clear frame, direction and vision for the big picture, so the small and practical things can align themselves in it. As it is right now, it is mostly chaos-one day running this direction, the next day turning around and running the other way. But many big companies have that problem, it isn’t just cycling. Doing things just for the purpose of doing them is – and never will be – sustainable in the long run.
      On to the Hour record: Personally I see no possible way to make it comparable to old times. It starts with the rider themselves, their body and muscles are totally different, their workload is different, etc. But I also agree that it is a sporting competition and not a publicity stunt and should be treated as such. The only two things I can think about to make it meaningful for competitors and fans and to give it credibility are these: Stop attempting an Hour record, instead begin to attempt the Hour Record 2014, 2015, etc.. If you give it a timeframe, you really can say it is a RECORD, but for that year, because the circumstances the record is attempted in, are comparable. The second thing is: If the UCI looks really, really hard I am pretty sure they will find enough money to fund the BP-programm for the riders who want to try the Hour and aren’t on the BP-programm. This way it would be a real Record, accessible for anybody.

  20. Just had a read through all the replies.

    Most people have an opinion one way or t’other on NUMBERS and TIMING MATS.

    If we’re honest, these are such minimal things that the UCI could, should and probably will make a move on in the next year or so. And it could fit in with – or be the beginning of – a general marketing/branding overhaul along the lines of INRNG’s list above.

    The stuff about contracts and the season dates however, and indeed the independence of CADF, are fundamentally much more important – hence why they are at the top of INRNG’s list, I imagine – and unfortunately I can’t see the wheels in Aigle turning too quickly on these.

    • Basically!

      I recall people saying the rider permitted to switch teams mid-season this year (sorry, I’m blanking on his name) may indicate more contract reform in the near future… we’ll see.

  21. IR,

    Some excellent suggestions, many of them rudimentary common sense.

    I particularly like the use of strategically placed timing mats, it would enhance the viewer experience considerably.

    The problem with this innovation is that many TV feeds seem to have problems consistently displaying the basic graphic information required to track the progress of the race. This whole area of on-screen graphics seems to be left to the ‘luck of the Gods’. Hopefully, as broadcast technology becomes simpler, we’ll see a lot more real time visual race information.

  22. Some of you are asking after an app. I was directed to the CyclingNews Tour Tracker last year and find it is absolutely brilliant for all the things you desire. You watch on a live map or profile the break and Peleton as well as groups between, and get live text updates too. Only downside is it only works for the three grand tours. But.. It’s a start, and the more people who download, the more likely it is to develop.

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