These issues keep cropping up. As ever a rule is no good if it can’t be enforced. If there’s no way to force riders to comply in the heat of battle then why not hit them and their teams where it hurts: the bank account. For too long the UCI fines have been so cheap they’re practically an invitation to break the rules.
There is debate to be had about using these paths and tracks, knowing where they are is part of the skill and if you are in a large group then it pays to fight for position because one minute the bunch is spread across the road and the next it will be lined out in the track and this could be ruinous in a crosswind. In short the tracks are part of the terrain and tactics even if they’re risky, especially if spectators stand there or a parked car lurks…but that’s for another day. Instead this piece is simply about the level of the fines.
What do Sagan, Vanmarke, GVA and others risk? 200 Swiss Francs (CHF) each, roughly the same sum in US dollars or Euros. Here’s a cropped image from the UCI rulebook:
That’s no deterrent, for starters three times 200 CHF adds up to 2% of the prize pot available to the three podium finishers. So if you can gain advantage avoiding the cobbles this is a bargain: spend €190 to boost your chances of winning tens of thousands in prize money at the finish line.
Even this simple calculus doesn’t apply since team pay the fines, typically netting them off prize money thereby rendering the monetary consequences of breaking the rules even more distant. It’s likely that the amount of fines levied isn’t even communicated to the racers so the consequences are even more remote.
As the screengrab of the rules above show there are two tiers of fines in the UCI rulebook, one for pro races and another for others, ie *.2, U23 and junior UCI races. The pro fines are roughly double the amateur ones. Here lies a problem given a 100 CHF fine might make a junior or U23 amateur think twice but a World Tour pro and their team? Never.
Proportionality matters, the fines need to signal the price to be paid and signal a deterrent. The fine shown above is 200 CHF and a handful that are higher – punch a spectator and you risk 5000 CHF – but most fines are 50, 100 or CHF CHF. This amount is too small, there needs to be a zero or more on the end of the number here or perhaps even levy on the basis of team budgets so that the biggest richest teams pay according to their means?
A further reason to reflect on the need for a deterrent is the exemplary aspect of the World Tour, where riders are role models and have their every move broadcast on TV. So when someone slings a gel wrapper into the wild then the message should go out that this isn’t pro. All the waste zones and warnings are
Before this is seen as a money-spinner for the UCI remember that fines levied are levied in Swiss francs because the governing body is based in Switzerland but the money goes to the host country’s federation, so a fine levied during the Omloop goes to the Belgian federation and not the UCI. Above all these fines are all avoidable if riders stick to the road and follow the roles.
Fairplay Classification: the Giro d’Italia keeps a running total of fines levied during a race and each day the team with the cleanest record wins: Lotto-Jumbo won in 2016. It’s a system that ought to be replicated during the year with the teams ranked on the basis of their fair play and the team wins a prize at the UCI’s gala.
The UCI fines are set too low. Paying 200 Swiss Francs in order to swap cobbles for a bike path isn’t just a business expense paid by teams, it’s a bargain and it signals aloud that breaking the rules is a matter of loose change for teams with multi-million Euro budgets. Chucking a gel wrapper into the countryside has no consequence. The fines levied have been unchanged for decades. It time for higher tariffs to reflect the prestige of the World Tour, the exemplary status of riders on TV and to bolster the deterrent effect. If the commissaires are powerless to stop riders on the day then let the bank managers get involved.