Race Radios For Everyone

Preben Van Hecke

What’s new this season? With disc brakes almost rare as motors one novelty for 2016 is the general use of race radios across all pro events. Previously reserved for the World Tour, and even threatened with extinction, radios are now in general use across all major pro races, male and female, for example at the Tour of Oman as modelled by reigning Belgian champion Preben Van Hecke. Will it make a difference? Maybe but perhaps not as we think.

Radios seem to generate all sorts of comments but people often seem prejudiced: you start with a view and continue in that direction. Actual study of the data is rare. There seems to be only one notable analysis thanks to Professor Gaël Gueguen of Toulouse Business School. He analysed 245 stages of the Tour de France between 1991 and 1996, when there were no radios, and 120 stages from 2001 to 2005 when radios were in use. In total this makes for 40,000 individual results across two time periods. There’s a PDF of the presentation in English if you want more. Guegen draws two major conclusions:

  • there no meaningful increase in the number of bunch sprints since the introduction of radios. This is contrary to the received idea that radios allow teams to rein in breakaways
  • in the event of a breakaway staying away then the bunch rolls in behind with a greater delay when radios are present. The rationale for this is that once informed that a chase is futile the better-informed bunch sits up to conserve energy for another day

The analysis is helpful but incomplete. For example the radio is a useful tool to transmit information but in between the periods examined TVs made their way into the team car giving directors more information on the race. While the official race radio can frequently communicate time gaps live from the commissaire’s team car, TV often displays the time gap in real time allowing a more immediate grasp of what is happening. It also shows context, for example who is and who isn’t working in a breakaway which is important information to assess the chances of a breakaway succeeding. This is acknowledged by the study, as is the arrival of other informational tools such as power meters which help riders pace themselves better.

World Tour catenaccio
Another problem isolating the effect of radios has been comparing a World Tour race to smaller one. Sometimes people say World Tour races are boring because of radios, that teams can control things. The study above suggests this might not be the case but the problem is isolating radios from other significant differences:

  • the stakes are much higher in a World Tour race so teams deploy risk-averse tactics. They play tight because they can’t afford to lose, a contrast to lesser races with more small-budget teams seems them trying to disrupt the race more
  • World Tour races have all the big teams meaning a lot of strong riders to control. Put simply if Sky, BMC and Etixx want to reel in a breakaway they can probably do this more ably than Cofidis, Southeast or Caja Rural
  • Team sizes vary too, the smaller the race the smaller the team too which makes it harder for teams to control

Caricatures perhaps but it all points to the difficulty in isolating one factor so when we say “World Tour races are boring and controlled” it can be true but proving the contribution of radios among squad sizes, team budgets and more is harder.

Should we remove information from the race in order to increase what Prussian military general Carl von Clausewitz called “the fog of war”? Make the race foggier and it could be more compelling, breakaways could get the edge on their chasers. Only if we try to make the racing more uncertain then sprinters’ teams or GC leaders have an interest in mitigating the risk. To exaggerate to make the point imagine if there were no time gaps given in a race: we might think this would create wild racing but strong teams would quickly learn that it pays to keep any breakaway in sight and therefore the race would be more boring with escape attempts being neutralised almost from the start.

Hikob telemetry

Indeed it’s hard to keep the riders in the dark when there’s more and more information around them. We saw the adoption of live telemetry at the Tour de France last summer – those black sticks under the saddle. Similarly fans can stand beside the road and get live information via their smartphones. It’s hard to isolate the riders from the technology around us; if anything a crackling radio prone to breaking-up sounds quaint, something analogue in our a digital age. How long until teams have bike computer or even heads-up displays that communicate messages and beam power data back to the team car so that a coach can fine tune the tactics with this new information.

Fed up with hours of live TV ending in the inevitable sprint finish? Add some hills, cobbles or some other feature. Race organisers can swap long flat roads for tortuous twisty ones or include disruptive elements late in the day. This is not new, see how they put the Poggio in the 1960 Milan-Sanremo and have kept on adding more obstacles to split the race up ever since. Paris-Tours now uses three hills late in the race and ever since the “Sprinters’ Classic” rewards bold breakaways. Perhaps the biggest novelty is in the Tour de France where long days with a flat finish used to be normal, acceptable but now ASO likes to spice things up with a spiky hill, some cobbles or some other feature. The upcoming Paris-Nice features a section of gravel road.

Race radios are allowed in all pro races now. Some will cheer and some will boo but it probably won’t change much. The one study into radio use concludes there were as many sprint finishes in the Tour de France with or without. If anything radios bring a second order reward for the breakaways because if they stay away then the bunch eases up to save energy, giving the breakaway with not just the stage win but a bigger time gain which helps for that all important team prize.

There are dull races across all categories although perhaps we rage more when a big race like the Tour de France or a Monument plays out so predictably because we invest more hope in it? We’re just over a week away from the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the prospect of seeing Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Alexander Kristoff and Greg Van Avaermaet excites. With or without an earpiece.

93 thoughts on “Race Radios For Everyone”

  1. If there becomes and issue of technology making the race boring or predictable, one potential rule could be to make all communication for safety only. For tactics the riders would still have to come back to the team car, old school style.

  2. One argument against radios that rarely gets mentioned is the cost and hassle. Good radios and earpieces are not cheap; they have to be charged up overnight; someone has to untangle all the earpieces and make sure they’re working before every day of racing; and to use them legally requires a separate permit for each country, which is an administrative headache.

    Big teams spend upwards of 100,000 euros for radios, not to mention all the time and effort mentioned above. Smaller teams can’t match this so this is another way they’re put at a disadvantage.

  3. While firmly in the anti-radio camp, I wish the rules makers would at least try a real test to see if they make any real difference in the quality of the racing. Hard not to think the order “get to the front” relayed by the DS before some crucial point in a race causes more crashes as riders fight over the same piece of roadway and hard not to think a lot of racers don’t need much tactical smarts these days as the DS calls them out via earpiece. As with most of the “technology” just because we can doesn’t mean we must, especially in a sport that by definition is anachronistic. Imagine you just dropped in from another planet and someone tried to explain big-time bicycle racing to you. Quite likely you’d ask “All that high-tech material, electronic controls, radio telemetry…but you still have to PEDAL the thing to make it go?”

    • Sorry Larry, but the “dropped from another planet” defense it moot. Just imagine you’d try to explain american football to those aliens. “Well, you generally don’t kick it with the foot, and actually it isn’t even a ball.” Those aliens would be so constantly baffled by our stupidity, that pro cycling would be just a minor head scratching for them, radios or not.

      • You could be right, but I’m tormented by the time Rider P was racing up Mt. Ventoux against Rider A and Rider A’s DS was watching the TV in his car while calling a doctor in Italy who worked with Rider A to get an opinion on how long Rider P could keep up the pace. The doctor relayed his opinion while watching the TV coverage wherever he was via cellphone and his decision was then relayed to Rider A via radio. I would prefer all that be banned and replaced with the old “Geez, how long can he keep this up?” thoughts going through Rider A’s head and forcing him (and maybe the DS if he can get up there in the car to yell at his rider, for all to hear) to decide whether to chase, stay with him, or let him go while Rider P takes off on one of his famous exploits. That “Fog of War” concept seems essential to what makes this sport interesting. Otherwise we have robots like Chris Froome to “enjoy” which doesn’t create much passion…at least for me.

        • Larry – without radios, Rider A’s DS would drive beside Rider A and deliver the same verdict.

          Radios had nothing to do with that. You’d have the same result.

          • If I was the king of cycling, none of that would be possible. My technology argument isn’t simply anti-radio – there’d be no TV’s in the cars and no cell phones to call up dodgy doctors to get their opinion on things. Same with batteries – NONE. No powermeters, no cyclocomputers, no reason to have any sort of battery so no questions about what that battery is for, whether it’s a tiny motor in the seat tube or whatever. The idea of a sport that is basically an anachronism by definition being affected by all this “technology” seems absurd to me, which was the basis of my analogy of trying to explain it to an alien, something betabug didn’t seem to grasp. Even MLB still requires the use of a WOODEN bat while college teams blast balls outta the park with the newest-latest technology. Just because we CAN doesn’t mean we MUST.

          • At the start of stage races we should have an ‘Out of the box’ TT where the GC clock starts when a bike gets unloaded, and the rider has to put it all together for a prologue course using only a multitool and one tyre lever.

          • Your analogy reverting to baseball proves that technology and science in sport is here to stay.

            How many statisticians and analysts and sports medicine personnel do baseball teams employ these days? Baseball might have a wooden bat, but if it wasn’t for the tommy-john surgeons, analysts, and their computers, surgical equipment, etc. we’d have a much different game than we do today!

          • We simply do not see crazy attacks like Chiappucci at the highest levels today because, well, they are crazy. It has little to do with radios and is more about a conservative approach of teams that has a greater chance of ‘succeeding’. We might shake our fists at teams willing to race for top 10 finishes but this isn’t going to change by getting rid of radios.

            (Also, the MLB analogy is faulty as aluminum bats are banned from a safety concern due to the increased velocity for the ball hit back at the pitcher at the professional level.)

        • I don’t know if Chris Froome’s tactics are any less exciting than Miguel Indurain’s were… he never had daring attacks, all he did was diesel his way up the climbs, and then destroy people in 70km TT’s. THAT sounds boring! You had 5-years of that winning the TdF.

          • It was. I was there, BUT we did enjoy crazy attacks by the likes of Claudio Chiappucci and in a few cases wondering if BigMig and Co would catch him, as at Sestriere, a stage far from boring. Getting the time splits on how far ahead El Diablo was only from the chalkboard or yelled out of the team car made things MORE interesting, not less. I’m anti-radio but I’d like to see a season without them just to get an idea of whether the use really makes racing as boring as the theories suggest. I think the “Fog of War” situation often makes things more interesting.

          • It is a fallacy that Indurain didn’t attack and waited for the time trials. For example:

            – 1991 – attacks on the descent of the Tourmalet and rode the Col d’Aspin and Val Louron in a two man break with Chiappucci
            – 1992 – Counter attacked on the Col de Mont Cenis (the penultimate climb) and chased Chiappucci all the way to Sestriere in a group of four
            – 1993 – attacked at the base of the Galibier with Rominger which demolished most of his rivals
            -1994 – attacked at Hautacam well down the climb and only Leblanc could stay with him
            – 1995- attacked en route to Liege and a few days later at La Plagne

            Hardly the actions of a rider who hid behind his team. Indurain was more than capable of looking after himself in the mountains and as the above shows he usually put in one big day in the mountains which put time into most of his rivals. However, he was generous in letting others take the stage wins if they can hang on to his back wheel and it was boring to watch because he made it look so easy, not because his tactics were. How many Tour leaders nowadays are willing to go man on man without team mates as far from the finish as Indurain was?

          • Interesting points Chris. Indurain seems to have had a placid side with the media which probably counted for something to portray a boring side. He probably could have won more mountain stages but it paid to let others win a mountain stage here and there, perhaps literally but certainly politically.

    • Most of the spring one-day races were run without radio over the last couple of years as they were not WT status. Along with epic weather in 2015 we had Omega-Pharma-whatever blow up spectacularly on the run into the finish of one race because they didn’t have perfect information.

      It’s important to note it’s the combination of race radio and production broadcast that probably changes the dynamics of racing, not the radios themselves. Inrng made the point, but it’s worth restating.

      • Radios and lack of information weren’t the reason that Omega-(insert drug company here)-Quickstep blew up at Omloop last year!

        It was a) poor tactics and b) Stannard was by far the strongest rider in the race. Extra information wouldn’t have changed anything. The race was unfolding in front of their eyes. Boonen et al. cooked themselves earlier to set up the break, Stijn chased down a teammate, and then Stannard brought back all counter attacks before crushing their wills in the final km.

        • They had no information about the gap between them and the chasers and kept the hammer down. Stannard was strong on the day and got a nice ride in.

          This stands in stark contrast to Froome checking his GC status on radio while blasting the TdF field to bits on the appropriately steep finish.

          I’ll take the former.

          • Naw, the gap and information about the gap had nothing to do with the final verdict.

            The main reason that Quickstep lost that was because Vandenbergh chased down his own teammate’s attack giving Stannard a perfect place to launch a massive attack. Then Quickstep screwed up again by leading out the final sprint.

          • That is patently false. They admitted had the information. Bonnen and Co. clearly mentioned in the interview “we knew the gap was small and so had to keep working. Stannard wasn’t working as hard and so was fresher at the end”.

            So it’s poor tactics. You let your guy go instead of chasing him down. Trying to do a 1/2/3 or setup a guy not 100% (Boonen) for the win didn’t work. And Stannard had great legs and a great brain. Sure, if they are caught it becomes a larger sprint, a bigger crapshoot and maybe he doesn’t win. But neither would these three guys.

    • Larry

      “As with most of the “technology” just because we can doesn’t mean we must, especially in a sport that by definition is anachronistic.”

      This 100% nails it. I agree with everything you said here. It’s why I have always been a strong proponent to the UCI rules on weight limits, no spinacis, traditional wheels and geometry.

      We always hear that disc brakes make racing safer. You know what also makes racing safer: riding with your brain. Maybe disc brakes just make riders take more risks?

      More on topic: give them neutral race radio so we can cut off the old safety argument. Let’s see who’s going to listen to it (very few will).

  4. Inrng – once again, you hit the nail on the head. I too, suspect that radios don’t substantially change the interest level of a race. It’s down to the route and the racers.

  5. >”We’re just over a week away from the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the prospect of seeing Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Alexander Kristoff and Greg Van Avaermaet excites. With or without an earpiece.”

    OH YEAH, it does! 🙂

  6. I’m ok with radios. You still need the legs. You still need the brain. It just becomes a matter of having better communication and information. So yeah, it reduces some uncertainties but on crunch time you still have to pedal.

    I’m ok with races being more a test of legs and execution at the cost of less information uncertainty. It’s not just gaps, it’s your second road captain knowing that your sprinter is off the back and make the (team) decision to abandon that option and focus on the non-sprint alternatives. Or the opposite – all hands on deck to bring your struggling team leader back. I understand the romantic appeal to the lone, headstrong guy that makes his/her own luck (heck, that’s why CX is my favourite discipline), but also like the teamwork involved in road racing.

    • Exactly, to continue your argument (correct me if I’m wrong), people who complain that race radios ruin racing aren’t looking at the full picture.

      Race radios only play a small part in a team’s ability to control the race. Eg. If a TdF stage had Team Sky controlling the front of the peloton and radios were banned, the road captain would be the guy doing the calculations of how long until they catch the break. He’d get extra information relayed to him from domestiques (or himself) when they go back for water. Also, he’d have the route memorised, and notes taped to his handlebars (which would be a major danger factor if you have 20 captains all spending time looking at their bars during the race).

      The point is, Team Sky would still control that break, and then pull them back with help from the sprinter’s teams. That aspect of racing wouldn’t change.

      I feel like the anti-radio camp want races with daring attacks, not tactical chess. But, even without radios, you’d have tactical chess in major stage races – it would just be slightly different. The anti-radios want daring attacks leading to romantic wins by their heros, but that kind of racing doesn’t work.

      • ‘which would be a major danger factor if you have 20 captains all spending time looking at their bars during the race’
        – if that’s true, then so is Froome staring at his powermeter all the time.

      • Riders swear they need them for safety too. Riders from that era weren’t too concerned with safety, 99% didn’t even wear helmets, so I don’t think they’d understand.

        My point is, with or without the radios, the teamwork that controls races would still happen, information would be spread differently. So the argument that radios lead to boring controlled races is invalid.

        • The “we need radios for safety” argument is 100% BS, but your last statement may well be true, despite my theories. Why couldn’t we have a year without ANY radios and prove it one way or another? I’m not arguing against teamwork controlling races. I’m arguing that radio earpieces make teamwork much too easy and controlled. I want the “Fog of War”.

          • The arguments against race radios are surely best left to those who no longer follow road racing because they thought the inclusion of them ruined it for them. They voted with their feet.

          • By not giving a chance to non-radio big races, the possibility is taken away to prove the point of the possible harm caused by radios.
            Race radios should be banned, at least for a couple of years, to see what really happens, and also because DS have pressured to keep them for their own selfish reasons, as if the sport belonged to them. This attitude of DS, as if their interests mattered, should be heavily punished. The sport belongs to the fans.

        • The safety argument for radios is a red herring (DS’s just want to maintain order): race radio can be used to warn riders of any safety issues – and you could even have it so that riders can talk to their cars, e.g. ‘I have a puncture’, ‘I’ve fallen down a ravine’, etc. Radios must cause more crashes than they stop: every grand tour, we see crashes caused as all teams needlessly pile to the front under instruction.

          • I’d like to see one flat stage at the TdF with no radios. Either you’ll be shown to be correct re less ‘trains’ being formed leading to a safer finish or no change as DS’s just brief their riders with exactly the same instructions just pre race and via a rider dropping back to the cars before the finish.

            No change would be my guess because it’s too important a race. Smaller teams though would make a difference.

          • On the argument that radios are the indirect reason for crashes, because “all riders” are instructed to the front by DS’s.

            Instructions are also given before the race. “Bring rider X to the front”. “Stay in the front”. Is the argument that, given no radios, riders forget these instructions by the time they enter the last 20 k? Or is it that they need to be yelled at to keep motivated? Do they prefer being yelled at in the team bus afterwards? Professional riders are given a job to do, and if they don’t, well, they simply haven’t done their job. People won’t be happy, the rider will be considered one that can’t be trusted, and he’s less likely to be selected next time. If there is reason to place a rider in the front, riders will pile to the front radios or not.

            The problem is when almost every single team think they have at least one guy that needs to be placed at the front, be it before a sprint or a climb. Again, this doesn’t change with radios, it is something they’ve agreed on before the race. What one could argue, is that radio instructions – i.e. constant yelling – can make riders more stressed in the situation. I’d be very surprised if a rider experiencing stress because of radio instructions, causing or almost causing bad crashes because of it, didn’t pull out the ear piece next time around.

            I’m anti-radio, by the way, simply because I prefer the riders on the road to make the tactical decisions.

  7. Ask any of the top team’s domestiques what they are doing in the first fifty or sixty km of a WT race and they will tell you “filtering the break” ie making sure that when the break does go the riders in it are the ones they want. This would happen with or without radios.

  8. Another variable is the ultimate responsibility of the DS to coach this 15-20+ million dollar unit to a win. If he doesn’t, by any means necessary, he’s fired. Without radios that reverts back to the team leaders to coach that group and then the onus is on them. Take it back to the football (US) analogy above, we felt we lost something years back when coaches were instructed to call the plays and the “ball” was figuratively taken away from the quarterback. Winning is a multimillion dollar business investment that owners will shoulder one, maybe slightly more expendable, individual with. Better to can your DS than the team leader.

  9. I thin there’s a rider safety element to radio’s how about the removal of power meter’s and heart rate monitors I suspect that would have a massive effect on group tempo riding?

    • The safety argument is worth nothing since Kivilev. For the rest of the equipment, you are dead right, but they will come up with safety with dummy health reasons, like HR monitors being useful in case of tachycardia, or power meters preventing tendons from getting overexerted, or whatever.

  10. Please get a grip everyone. We all want the sport of procycling to advance beyond the “never eat icecream and dont walk up stairs” era. Radios are here and they are here to stay. They have pros and they have cons but they are here to stay. As in every big-money sport of the modern era the differences between competitors become smaller and smaller due to advances in science, technology and medicine. This is just how things are. Whining on about a pre-radio era is really just embarassing. This is a modern, big money sport and we should embrace anything that provides any advantage to the sport itself.

    • ruby_roubaix: You express the “conventional wisdom” very well BUT the problem is that we DON’T all want the sport to advance…to the point it’s as boring and controlled (but way up there technology-wise) as F1. The idea that “this is just how things are” doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider the whole idea of sport is competitors agree to compete under a totally arbitrary set of rules. Those rules (like wooden bats in the big money MLB) can be whatever we like and in my opinion should be carefully considered to create entertainment and passion among the fans rather than serve the moneyed interests. ASO’s Christian Prudhomme makes this case in the current Bicisport.
      Ecky Thump: I don’t think there’s anything in the UCI rules about pro cycling’s purpose being to sell bicycles. The SPORT does just fine whether the bike industry chooses to be involved or not, though they’re in many ways carrying it at present since the doping scandals and financial crisis have (for now) eliminated so many other sponsors. You may remember at one point ol’ Henri Desgrange basically kicked the bike makers out – giving birth to the publicity caravan to replace the lost revenue. I’m not so sure a national team TdF on organizer supplied machines would be such a bad idea – maybe once every 4 years?
      To conclude (I promise) before the usual comments come in, NONE of my suggestions means the sport must return to heavy steel machines, toe clips and wool clothing – it’s not an “either we go crazy technology-wise or we must go back to the stone-age” argument, OK?

    • I agree with this. I’ve been watching cycling for 20 years (which is admittedly not as long as some), and I’m happy with the sport, all things considered. Really, if I could change anything about it, it wouldn’t be radios.

    • Oh, but this is the worst attitude. When you’re told “look, this is what’s happening, so stop whining, be realistic, accept it, and leaves us alone, because you’re opinion doesn’t matter”. Hey, it’s exactly the opposite: it’s about the fans’ opinion and whining mattering about what happens in the end, and the professionals having to “be realistic” about what is expected of them.

  11. The subtext of this very interesting piece goes beyond radios – it’s the next generation real-time devices that riders / DS’ will have.
    Whilst I’m ambivalent about the use of race radios, I must confess to some unease with where technology could lead the sport.
    Will there be some time in the future where a DS can key in data to some device to plot how a race strategy may unfold?
    This happens in F1 ; for fuel and weight levels of a car read watts and nourishment of a rider?
    Could a race become like a computer game?

    • I think an answer might be found in the riders. Take Richie Porte – destroys the field one day, has a bad day the next. Power meters and radios are all well and good, but form comes and goes. Any rider knows what they can do, but some days you just can’t. Some days you surpass your usual limits. A TdF team has nine riders. That in itself is a lot of variables before you get into conditions, mechanicals, crashes, other teams.

  12. As has been said! legs, lungs,brains and good domestiques are the keys to winning races.
    Time to move on radios are here to stay!

    Thanks Inrng for nailing it.

    • Of course you’re right.
      But technology will have an increasing role to play also.
      Pro cycling exists to sell bicycles, right?
      So the technological advances will never stop but we have to hope they do not over-egg the technology pudding, so that it could take away the joy of racing.

      I raised the F1 analogy above as it is, I feel, a sport which has suffered at the hands of technology. They’re having to rein in some of the technological possibilities as it’s making the events dull and predictable, and the real-time analysis that’s played out is a large part of this.
      Some like, others don’t.
      But that was the point that I took from Inner Ring’s article.
      It’s not so much the here and now, it’s what is coming and there may be a danger of analysis paralysis in the offing.

  13. The point about “a lot of big teams” is key.

    At the recent Herald Sun Tour, Froome and Kennaugh rode away on stage one on the last climb (roughly 10km at 5%) and stayed away to the finish, 20 km of very gentle and nontechnical descending later, with Froome basically towing Kennaugh to the line.

    Great, enterprising racing by Sky, but it worked because their opposition was the OGE and Trek-Segfredo B teams, and the rest were Pro Conti and Conti teams. No way it would have been successful in a WT race.

  14. In the film Chasing Legends, on a windy day in southern France there is a change of route direction and Road Captain Mick Rogers orders HTC-Highroad to the front by radio. In the resulting echelon frenzy favourites loose time and Cav wins the stage.
    Radios make for easier communication. I like that, also in bike racing.

    IIRC von Clausewitz didn’t actually write the phrase “the fog of war”, but that it is derived from a longer passage of his by readers.

  15. @LarryT
    You say that the sport of pro cycling is an anachronism and use that statment to justify your idea that there should be no electrically powered devices available to riders or staff – no power meters, no Garmins, no GPS, no on-board footage, no phones and no tvs. It seems to me that your idea of cycling is anachronistic. Its a multimillion dollar, modern, high technology sport now and we all have to learn to accept that. The idea of no powered devices is laughable in todays sport.
    Im not denigrating your romantic yearnings but seriously, things have moved on and you may have to accept that or move on yourself.

    • Just because something is possible doesn’t mean you have to do it.
      Despite what you have unilaterally designated as facts, none of the things you list are essential for the sport. Nevermind beneficial.
      (In both your comments, you mention money: what will make the most money in the sport is good racing, without cheating – that’s what will bring in the sponsors. Technology will make little or no difference to that.)
      You seem to have fallen into the trap that the aim of bike racing is to make the most amount of cash, not to produce the best sport; without thinking about why you would want this.

  16. Really not a fan of radios in a race. For a number of reasons. I’ll not list them. What I did want to react to was the following conclusion from the data:

    “there no meaningful increase in the number of bunch sprints since the introduction of radios. This is contrary to the received idea that radios allow teams to rein in breakaways”

    No meaningful increase? So that means there’s an increase, otherwise he would’ve said: there’s no increase.
    So if there is an increase, who decides how much % is meaningful? Is 5% meaningful?

    Perhaps I should be bothered to read his investigation but I’m not willing to go that far on a Saturday afternoon :p

    • I can’t be bothered to read the study either, but I assume “no meaningful increase” means that whatever increase there might have been was within the bounds of random variation/not statistically significant.

  17. “How long until teams have bike computer or even heads-up displays that communicate messages and beam power data back to the team car so that a coach can fine tune the tactics with this new information.”

    Well, the UCI already allowed for this from 1/1-2016 in article 1.3.024 that reads:
    “Any bicycle may be fitted with onboard technology equipment that has the ability and ter purpose to collect or transmit data, information or images. Such equipment shall comprise telemetry and transponder units and video cameras. Bicycles may be fitted with such equipment under the following conditions:
    – The system to install the equipment must be designed for use on bicycles and shall not affect the certification of any item of the bicycle;
    – The system to install the equipment must not allow the equipment to be removed during the race and the equipment will be considered non-removable;
    – The rider must not have any direct access to the images or information concerning other riders being collected or transmitted during the race.
    Compliance with the aforementioned conditions and provided all other provisions of the UCI Regulations are respected, means that the use of onboard technology is authorised but does not imply that the UCI undertakes any responsibility for it. The UCI shall not be liable for any consequences deriving from the installation and use of onboard technology by licence holders, nor for any defects it may hold or its non compliance.
    This article and the requirements contained herein do not apply to removable computers / rider information systems.”

    So there you go… HUDs are basically allowed (but probably not very aero…)

    On the radio-issue allow me again to point to another angle on this: The problems concerning the team cars and the convoy in general: When a problem arises for a rider, his (or hers) team car breaks the line immediately and – for the rest of the convoy – unexpectedly. This really causes some dangerous situations and is not good for the “fellowship of the teams” that normally rules the convoy.

  18. The only argument here seems to be : “will it be boring or not ?” But I think this is not the point. At a higher level, the point is : who decide to race in a certain way ? Who decides to attack at a certain point ? Is it the DS or the rider himself ? Can you be a campionissimo with no sense of the race whatsoever, only guided by your earpiece ? Can you be a champion without any freedom, any decision of yours, not always decided from the outside, not always purely logical ?

  19. Although it may be impractical, the only way to determine how radios affect racing is to do a randomized, controlled experiment. I suggest designating an entire season, in which immediately before the race start, an official flips a coin to decide whether or not radios will be allowed. With replication of races throughout the season, this randomization process will distribute other factors that affect racing (weather, parcours, competition, demonic intrusion, etc.) relatively evenly across the “heads” races and the “tails” races, allowing one to assign cause-and-effect of the radios to any response variables of interest (with some probability).

    • The UCI WorldTour is not a science experiment to be determined before a race start by the toss of a coin. It’s a professional sport in which individuals and companies invest millions, and sometimes tens of millions of dollars/euros. The statistical analysis of “fog of war” racing is irrelevant. Its a modern sport with all the accoutrements of a modern sport. The idea of racing without modern equipment is farcical. The anti-radio voices would be the same people decrying Tullio’s new-fangled quick releases almost 100 years ago. We’re in the 21st century people, please move on.

      • Sounds like somebody’s a little afraid of what the science might reveal.

        In all seriousness, I’m not sure how conducting such an experiment would be any worse that what the UCI has already done, and that is to simply ban radios in a totally unsystematic way.

      • What is ridiculous is to have the same set of rules about equipment for all races. “Eroica-like” races should be competing with all-techno races. We’d see who attracts more followers.

  20. Pro Road Cycling is pretty much unique insofar that it’s an individual/team sport. We can argue about the percentages but radios add to the team side and no radios allow for more indivualism so maybe that plays into peoples preferences. Either way there’s not much better a sight than a lone rider heading to the finish and trying to hold off those behind having pulled his earpiece out to just concentrate on giving their all.

  21. “Radios seem to generate all sorts of comments but people often seem prejudiced: you start with a view and continue in that direction.” – INRNG

    Looking through the comments this is 100% accurate. Plenty of comments, and no-one’s changed their minds :p

    There’s always some new part of the sport that people like or don’t like. But when it’s been around as long as Radios normally people accept it and move on, quite why radios seem to endure as a discussion topic i don’t quite understand.

    • I did change my mind about radios a bit. Not instantly as a result of this article, but gradually as the result of a few similar ones. I’m getting more and more convinced that the influence of the radios on the quality of racing that we see is just not so big. E.g. keeping a break at short enough distance does not require radios, chalk boards and screaming out of car windows do the job just fine. The points at which the leader has to be brought to the front can be discussed in advance. On the other hand the ‘fog of war’ isn’t that attractive either. Somebody raising their arms because he didn’t know he’s not first may be funny, but the joke wears out fast. A chase group not chasing because they do not know there is anyone to chase doesn’t make for good viewing.
      All in all, i’ve become pretty indifferent to race radios. I think e.g. decreasing team sizes would do much more to live up racing.

      • I believe Mikel Landa would have listened even less to Martinelli in last year’s Giro and Vuelta if he just hadn’t heard him.
        There are no more questions, your Honour.

  22. Well, if radios are here to stay, which seems likely, I’d like to hear what’s being broadcast….

    I actually hate it they way people try and compare cycling to football and NHL and F1 etc etc, but ….. Like they do in F1 !

  23. Are race radio channels public? I’d like to read a race’s full transcript to make up my mind. It is a lot of text, I am sure, but interesting.

    • Some setups may operate on proprietary or encrypted protocols but in general I believe you could bring your scanner/CB and have it pick up any channel you like to listen in to. It’s for your, though, to figure out who your are listening to.
      The Radio Tour frequency is readily available in the technical guide.

  24. I’ve always thought the importance of race radios has been over-played. It would be better if riders decided things for themselves – tactics should be a part of a rider’s armoury – but in most situations they’d probably just be told what to do directly from the car (if not so often).
    However, I’d try anything now to try to make stage races more interesting: the ‘Sky way of riding’ (not their fault – it works; and now others are doing it) has made stage races much more dull – there’s been a far lesser effect on one day races.
    (The negative of race radios is riders being off the front and the peloton not knowing it due to a complete lack of information – as happened at the 2013 Roma Maxima. The race was a farcical lottery as Kadri won because no-one chased him down – because they didn’t know he was there.)
    So, I’d try no radios and see what happens, but probably more important is having smaller teams, no heart rate monitors and no power meters: at least then the riders would have to judge their work themselves a bit more. And if they can stop the teams having TVs in the cars that’d be good – but how?
    Anything (within reason) to mitigate team dominance should be tried.
    Increasing technology that means the riders have ever less to think about should be avoided. What’s interesting/exciting is seeing two people compete: the technology makes the people less important. If a technology doesn’t improve the sport, it should be removed. Basically anything electronic – including gears (and try hiding a motor then).
    The biggest factor is probably team budgets – a rich team can fill up with very good domestiques. From a purely sporting point of view, a budget cap would be a huge positive.

    • Very right. Cycling as a team sport is basically the problem beneath this discussion, and it’s basically the very problem of cycling (besides doping). I suspect a lot of the people defending race radios, or saying they don’t matter so much (so cut it out, right?), are just would-be professional domestiques that would heavily benefit, personally, from a heavily team-based “modern” cycling.

  25. All this talk about technology and technical advances on the bicycle as being a “new” trend is funny and interesting because, according to the US Patent Office, the bicycle is the single-most invention-centric item in terms of patent filings–with over 6 million or so patents, mostly in the period from the 1880s~1930s. So we cyclists are traditionally a tinkering breed of techies. 🙂

  26. Interesting article, I personally don’t have an issue with race radios as I can’t see it being the deciding factor in the outcome of the race. Breaks will be controlled with or without radios. I love watching a break even though the likelihood of success is slim, thoroughly enjoyed Vandenbergh victory even with a plastic bag!!

    To imply they’re ruining the excitement of races is basically saying that all the riders are robots and DS sit in their race cars remotely controlling how they ride through the radios and those plans always work. It’s the same argument against power meters – where I know Froome is criticised for riding to power, yes he may know power he can sustain for x amount of minutes but it is only one piece of puzzle, there are many other factors that come into play. That is the beauty of cycling racing, no one thing defines the outcome of a race. Look at the crosswinds at last years’ tour ultimately became the difference. Just as riders gets things wrong tactically, so can DS even with all the information at their fingertips, even if they relay information it may be too late.

    Riders still need to be tactically aware on the road, to imply they don’t need that knowledge because of race radios is ridiculous. In a lot of situations they will need to respond to attacks immediately not wait for their DS to give them the instruction.

    It’s like in boxing, a corner man can give all the instructions/information to a fighter during and between rounds but ultimately to execute the plan it is down to the boxer, same is true in cycling.

  27. Being the 377th person to equate not wanting all technologies to be allowed with wanting to go back to wool jerseys, fixing your own bike at an ironmongers, etc., etc. and so on is as logical as it is hysterically funny.

  28. Radios improve safety. Yes, yes they do.
    “I was talking through the radio with Dirk Demol and because of that I was slightly less focused. Suddenly I saw the motor bike swerving to the left and then I realized it was a dangerous corner. I slipped away,” Stuyven told Cyclingnews after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2016

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