Efforts by the UCI to phase in a ban on the use of race radios have become the focal point of a power struggle between pro cycling’s top teams and the sport’s governing body, which resulted in the start of yesterday’s opening race in the 2011 Mallorca Challenge, the Trofeo Palma, being delayed by 20 minutes and Tyler Farrar’s victory being annulled.
The decision to void the race came after UCI officials left it - local officials took their place - followed a protest by riders that caused the start to be held up as the governing body attempts to push through a ban on two-way communication during races.
The situation is reminiscent of Stage 10 of the 2009 Tour de France when 14 of the 20 teams protested about radios being banned that day, riding slowly in protest, leading the UCI to decide against repeating the experiment on Stage 13 of the race.
Ahead of the start of yesterday’s race in Mallorca, a statement was read out from the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP), which said “"The radio ban is one rule that we disagree with. We will not stand for rules being imposed on us without appropriate representation."
While AIGCP president Jonathan Vaughters stopped short of folowing the Boston Tea Party-style rhetoric by dressing up as a native American and dumping chests of tea into Palma’s harbour, he did use his Twitter feed to explain some of the background to the organisation’s stance, saying that radios, which teams say are essential for safety, were not the only point of contention.
“To be clear, radio ban protests are not only about the radio ban. Teams and riders must have greater participation in governance of cycling,” said Vaughters, adding, “Our licensing fees and bio-pass contributions to the UCI are massive. We must be represented. ‘No taxation w/o representation.’ Patrick Henry,” the latter being an early and high-profile opponent of taxes imposed by Britain on the American colonies.
Nevertheless, the UCI is determined to phase in the ban, which it says will stop races being in effect contested by remote control by team management communicating tactics to their riders, such as time gaps to a break or the need to attack an opponent showing signs of weakness, and will instead encourage a more spontaneous – not to mention spectator-friendly – style of racing, with riders making their own decisions on the road.
In a statement released last week following its Management Committee meeting in St Wendel, coinciding with the world cyclo-cross championships, the UCI said that the committee had “confirmed the progressive prohibition of the use of two-way radio in the interests of maintaining the quality of the sporting spectacle.”
It added that “the Management Committee will however constantly monitor the effects of this measure.”
Tour de France organisers ASO, who also own the Tour of Qatar currently taking place in the Gulf state, are backing the UCI in its stance and this morning’s Stage 1 of that race has got under way with a radio ban in force and without a planned protest by teams, who apparently backed down after ASO threatened to withdraw its officials from the race.
It's evident, however, that this is a battle that is set to continue throughout the season.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.