No More Mechanics On The Move

A short piece to mark a change in the sport. The UCI are clamping down on mechanics leaning out of car windows to service riders in a races. It’s been such a famous image from many races and now it’s going away for good. It’ll have tactical consequences too.

Here are the UCI rules, first the rule banning mobile mechanics (2.3.030) and second the fines liable if caught (12.1.040)

As you can see, repairs have to be done “when stationary”. It’s an old rule too that’s sat in the rulebook for years without being enforced. Until now.

Earlier this week the UCI commissaires warned teams in Paris-Nice about this. You can see the note above, it’s in French but the “il est interdit aux mécaniciens de se tenir penché à l’extérieur du véhicule” is about it being forbidden for mechanics to hang outside of cars. Soon after the warning was issued the UCI followed up with action and yesterday the commissaires fined Tinkoff-Saxo and Katusha pour encourager les autres:

You’ll see the 1,000 Swiss Franc fines (US$1,000) for team managers Dimitry Konyshev and Sean Yates because mechanics in their cars were caught leaning out of the window.

Earlier this week Philippe Gilbert dropped back to the BMC Racing team car for some help but it was for his shoes so he was able to hold on to the car while the mechanic did some work on the cleats inside the car. This is within the rules so there’s no fine.

Adieu magic spanner
The tactical consequences are two-fold:

  • if there’s a problem, a mechanic won’t attempt a mobile repair, instead there will be a rapid bike change so the rider can get going on a spare leaving the mechanic to fix the problem on the original bike
  • if a rider has a problem they can’t rely on the team car for a “magic spanner” push back to the peloton; the traditional ruse has been for the rider to get a spare wheel after a puncture and only to “complain” the wheel rubs on the brake blocks and so the team car appears, the rider holds on to the car while the mechanic gets to work on the “faulty” brake calliper… all while the car accelerates to 50km/h and suddenly the brake is fixed and the rider is driven back to the bunch for free. Now a mechanical or a puncture in a race will have more consequences, a rider won’t be able to make up lost time so easily. Teams can shoulder a fine but repeat it and they risk more severe punishments.

Enforce the rule or scrap it
Having a rule that people choose to ignore turns the UCI rulebook into a menu where teams and riders try to see what they can get away with. This reduces the credibility of the UCI and its commissaires. Maybe some rules need changing… but this means they need changing rather than leaving it up to the commissaires to interpret which ones to apply on a given day.

Not so much as a rule change as a mood change. Mechanics have been forbidden from leaning outside of team cars for a while but since the rule was ignored it carried on and you’ll have seen plenty of pictures and video of it happening in races. Now the UCI wants the rule respected. It’ll mean the end of some iconic images but the real point is a tactical shift: puncture or crash late in a race and if a rider gets a new bike they’ll use extra energy to get back.

37 thoughts on “No More Mechanics On The Move”

  1. Nothing worse than an unenforced rule. Either enforce it or abandon it. Good on the UCI for at least starting to tackle these inconsistencies.

  2. Call me a cynic but does this not just mean that teams will decide how many times they can break the rules in one race and limit themselves to that – take the fines when necessary but keep yourself below the threshold for further action, I’m thinking limited hawkeye challenges in tennis or cricket, use them wisely. You can bet if a top rider suffers a puncture at a key moment in a race then the rules will be broken and the fines will be paid – think Porte dropping back to get a gel for Froome. The fact that the rules were enforced didn’t stop it happening.

  3. Would this lead to a greater prioritization of durability in racing equipment like tires?

    Presumably riders will still draft the team car or take on 5 sticky gels before they find a flavor they like.

    • You’d think so for the tires. At the margin you’d take a more solid option although puncturing has always been risky, even with a “magic spanner” there’s been no free ride back. The problem with a “sticky bottle” boost is that it’s obvious and riders can be caught if it’s abused whereas the mechanical meant a rider could hold on for a minute or more.

  4. Good to see these rules being enforced. The dangers of hanging onto cars at 50 km/hr, even for pro bike riders should be obvious to everyone – even the DSs who drive these cars and require radio contact in the name of safety !

    I don’t think it will detract from the visual image at all. It will simply be replaced with images of teams riding hard to regain the peloton.

    Can we look forward to the rule on rain jacket colour and design also being enforced ?

  5. Good to see this precept enforced. Anything that increases randomness in races is welcome, and so is anything preventing riders from staying in the peloton. I read Cancellara disagrees, I suppose it is just peloton politics. Well, too bad for Fabian and for peloton politics.

  6. Will teams be concerned about the fine? It’s not very expensive. I would think the time gained through mobile repair may be worth paying the fine. If it were 10,000 chf they might take notice.

    • More rules and how about more rules and we could have rules about rules with extra rules thrown in and before we know it cycling is RULED OUT.

      • There are so many stupid rules, but one rule I would absolutely love (although this rule would maybe not be less stupid): Get rid of sunglasses. Sunglasses only on sunny days!

        • Huh? Why? They provide eye protection from flying debris, UV pretection from the sun’s harmful rays, and can improve visual perception. Clear lenses on rainy days make at least as much sense since there’s even more stuff flying around.

  7. I am in favor of the decision to enforce this rule. Like Evan, I hope it will in some indirect way lead to better equipment that will trickle down to the folks like me who do not always (ever) have team cars following. Thus, I disagree with Ferdi that it will increase randomness. Sure, there is some randomness to a mechanical problem, but there is also a non-random component, too. The better the equipment, the less likely it will fail, and perhaps it is not just wishful thinking that better equipment will be a result of enforcing the rule.

    On that note, how about completely ruling out bike and wheel changes from the team car? Get a wheel or bike change from a teammate and then have the teammate fix his own flat on the side of the road and try to beat the time cut (in stage races). If he does not, the worst that will happen is that the team will have one fewer riders for the rest of the race.

    To me, one of the beautiful aspects of this sport is the technology. I like to see a race won not based solely on the rider’s ability but also based on the ability of the technology and based a little bit on luck.

    • A flat tire is a pretty uninspiring way to win or lose a bike race. There is plenty of technology for flat resistant tires, you can buy them at any bike shop, I’d hate to see the Tour decided by a flat, just to motivate tire companies to develop technology they already have.

      • I think you missed my point, Anonymous. There is plenty of technology that would render a myriad of problems unlikely, but it is not very good technology if the compromises are too stiff. The best technology will minimize those compromises. We’ve all tried the flat-resistent tires and found them about as supple as the track of a Sherman tank. Give me a flat-resistent tire that rides like my Veloflex tires, and I’ll take it.

    • I’d hate to see any rider win a race because he had better technology than another rider. Luck, injuries, etc. will always play a part, but I’d always want to see the riders on pretty much identical bikes.

      • +1 One of the best things about this sport is that it’s NOT about the bike, no matter what the bike industry would like you to believe. UCI should put some teeth in some of these rules with TIME penalties rather than financial ones. A few CHF one way or another isn’t going to make much difference when a potential victory is at stake. It’s a shame when mechanical failure takes an athlete’s chance to win away, but perhaps his or her team ought to consider more than just financial sponsorship when they install those dodgy chainrings or wheels/tires, just to mention a couple of recent equipment failures?

        • Vaughters, for instance, has spoken about making cycling more like Formula 1, where technology plays a big role – presumably because that would be good for the sponsorship of his team.
          But F1 is tedious, these days, because the winner is not the best driver – no-one even knows who the best driver is now – he’s the driver with by far and away the best car.
          If Pinarello’s claims that their TT bike is 15% faster were true, Wiggins’s victories in the TT would be meaningless.

          • True, as an avid F1 fan since the 80’s I lost interest a few years back. All you hear about is technology this that and the other. No characters driving anymore just pilots.

      • Then why do you follow the old sport of men riding bicycles, if it is so bad it compares to slavery, if its very identity (in the literal sense of remaining identical) you are not fond of? Every time I hear the argument “but slavery also used to be ethical, legal, traditional…”, I feel I am dealing with people who do not really understand why something is ethical or traditional, and what makes or does not make moral change functional.

  8. So, it’s within the rules to get a cleat adjusted. What else might still be allowed? Fixing helmet straps? Clothes change?

    I think teams will certainly just pay the fine if it’s a crucial moment in the race but the enforcement of the rule might deter the lazy habit of pulling out the magic spanner any old time there is a flat.

  9. Love the accompanying b&w shot of the mechanic on the car boot. The spare bike on the left and riders 66 and 80 all look to have a tub strapped under the seat.

  10. So a mechanic is forbidden to hang out if a car and ‘work’ on a bike… What about a multi-skilled soignieur? Does the UCI take note of the roles of each employee in a team?

    • Some mechanics are actually licensed as Team Directors rather than or in addition to a mechanic license. This enables them to drive cars in the caravan and to represent the team in an official capacity (such as pre-race managers meetings); mechanic licenses alone do not allow for this.

  11. Off topic but I’m always amazed how much racers back in the day looked like men whereas the racers today look like juniors , the wonders of modern training to push the power numbers up I know.

    I’d actually like to see the sticky bottle gotten rid of compared to the mechanical helping hand , it’s one thing to have a puncture and get assistance back , quite another when it’s just getting help after getting hooped (Yes you sprinters ! )

  12. Interesting that repairing a shoe or cleat is still technically allowed. I didn’t see what Gilbert did but I would expect to see this loophole removed at some point. Arguably with only one foot attached it is more dangerous as the rider is in less control of the bike should something go wrong.

  13. Years ago in the fifties and early sixties the rear door of the Peugeots used by the Tour organisers for all teams in the TdF were actually cut away so the mechanic could lean right out to adjust derailleurs.
    We never heard of any accidents involving either riders or mechanics but I wonder how much this new attitude is due as much to Health & Safety aspects and fears of teams/riders/ mechanics suing the UCI in the event of an accident involving injury as to Sporting aspects.
    Not to disparage Mr Cookson who I think is doing a good job in difficult circumstances but I think he did used to work for an English County Council!


  14. Absolutely zero chance this will actually make any sort of “tactical difference” in the long run.
    First, because the fine involved is ridiculously small. If your top GC contender / climber / sprinter / echappee artist about to grab a stage has a mechanical that is fixable while moving, there is no chance in hell as a DS that you will stop.
    Second, because this is probably another temporary “look at me, I’m relevant” UCI fad. Just like the saddle to BB rule, the lawyer tabs rule, or the riding off-road fiasco. Sure, it’ll get annoyingly enforced for a few months, and then sparingly when the commissaire finds himself in a cash bind. Nothing any of the World Tour teams will really worry about though.

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