Surprise

All the big teams have had their presentations for the 2010 season. The season’s goals have been laid out, some publicly, some not as. So what’s likely to happen?

I got to thinking about what I’d like to happen. There are probably a great many of you who think I’ll be at the prologue of the Tour with sniper rifle trained on Alberto Contador. My equipment will be loaded, to be sure, but only with a 2 gig memory card.

Would it be interesting to see Cav win Milan San-Remo going away from the field? Sure. Would it be amazing to see Tomeke equal Roger DeVlaeminck’s record at Paris-Roubaix? Absolutely. Would it be great to see Contador battle Armstrong and Schleck until the field quit in submission? Truly, it would be riveting.

There’s just one problem. Not one of these outcomes would be surprising. Even those of you who hate Armstrong with the level of detestation ordinarily reserved for the intestinal flu must admit that an Armstrong victory is a possibility, no matter how damnable you think that version of the future might be.

And so, with five hours of me, a bike and an average heartrate lower than the speeds I drove as an irresponsible youth, I thought about the coming season.

Obsessed may be more like it.

I asked myself how I’d feel about Cav winning in San-Remo. Blah. Tomeke enter the velodrome in Roubaix alone? Equal parts thrilled and bored. Contador in yellow in Paris? Less ennui than I felt when Indurain won his third, if pleased to see him equal Thevenet’s and LeMond’s record. What if Armstrong stood atop the podium. Stunned. Plain damn stunned. Can you think of another rider that more teams will be riding against at the Tour? Has there ever been another rider that more teams will have deliberately ridden against? Did Merckx inspire that kind of opposition in anyone other than DeVlaeminck?

The answer, in my case, is that I just want some surprises. I don’t really mean of the Dirk Demol or Jean-Marie Wampers variety, you know a guy who doesn’t even get named as a dark horse, but rather, a guy who is a 10 to 1 or a 20 to 1.

It means seeing a break succeed at Milan-San Remo or—better yet—a tactical checkmate that leaves Quick Step chasing all the way to Roubaix—and off the podium. Not that I’ve got anything against them, I just want some finishes that I would never have guessed. And given the enormous limitations of my memory and creativity, it really shouldn’t be that hard.

So what would it require? Well, here’s the thing that occurred to me somewhere around Hollywood’s coastal outpost, better known as the Colony: Race outcomes were more uncertain—say it with me, people—before race radios.

There is plenty of dislike for race radios among the RKP readership as it is. I’ve straddled the line. Those of you who have been readers of VeloNews for a long time may recall Bob Roll’s account of riding the Giro d’Italia in the 1980s and entering an unlit tunnel only to plow into a pile of bricks in the middle of the road and fall in a puddle of diesel. Race radios might have helped him. They have done much to help team directors alert riders of coming course difficulties. On the other hand, the race courses are generally better scouted and selected today.

What of TVs in the cars? Honestly, I think these are as much a problem as the race radios. Do you suppose the team directors would be ordering their riders to the front to pedal hard quite as often if they couldn’t see live feeds of the race on TV in their cars?

So back to the old question. Should race radios be banned? If the team directors had less information about exactly what was happening from one moment to the next they might not bark quite so many instructions to their riders, ordering them to the front to ride.

Had radios been in use in ’88 and ’89 it is highly unlikely Dirk Demol and Jean-Marie Wampers would have stayed away to win Paris-Roubaix, and while I was non-plussed that a rider I had never heard of won Paris-Roubaix in ’89, I’d be grateful to see more uncertainty injected back into the racing.

So one thing is certain: At the very least, the TVs ought to be outlawed, even if the radios persist. It’s a miracle, if minor, that some DS, apoplectic over his riders’ inaction in the face of an attack, hasn’t crashed his car while glued to the feed.

Meh. So there it is, I’ve come around to wanting race radios banned from the peloton. I want the TVs yanked out of the cars, the radios left at home and team staff forbidden from watching TV at some hotel and calling the DS to update him on just what’s on the tube. So maybe the cell phones should go—just during the race, mind you—as well.

I risk seeming a Luddite. I’m not against technology, but what I want to avoid is the near constant feedback that tells the pack they are bearing down on the breakaway. The GPS data that reveals what the gap to the break is—5:10, 5:05, 5:03, etc.—is tantamount to the live TV feed. While it’s great for the home audience, I’d like to see anything that can give precise enough feedback to let the pack know the gap is coming down 10 seconds per kilometer find its way to Salvation Army.

After all, shouldn’t part of racing be based on your ability to do math when you’re at or above your lactate threshold?

So what’s going to happen? The call for radios to be banned will grow louder, that is what’s going to happen.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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16 comments

  1. reverend dick

    Hell yes they should be banned! If a rider cannot play the tactical game on his own in the heat of the race, then he is undeserving of the win. It’s racing, not a videogame for Director’s. It should be heart and soul on the road. Tooth and claw, neck and neck.

    Maybe I should just go ride.

  2. Lachlan

    Rather than Lance, I think Contador will have more teams riding against him at the tour, as he will be favourite and so focus of strategy…. but that’s probably the biggest plus Lance has – strategy in uncertainty.

    Everyone will respect Lance’s potential, more so after last year…. But I bet before many stages Saxo will spend more time thinking about how to shed Contador, and Contador more about making sure Saxo don’t work him over in a 1-2…. So Lance could use that to his advantage, even if he lacks the sheer top end explosive power in the mountains Andy S and Contador will probably have.

    And yes, for sure it would be a stunner if Lance wins, and I’m sure he is incapable of doing anything other than everything he possibly can to make that happen…. so it may well!

  3. velomonkey

    Of course you will be “stunned” if LA gets on the podium. Of course team will be lining up against him. Of course. Do you read? Do you watch the race. Teams respect the guy, as they should, but Riis didn’t buy it last year and he’s not buying it this year. Trust me, the guy is not alone and it’s naive to think he is.

    Radios should go to – no matter what.

  4. Champs

    That genie isn’t going back in the bottle. The radio has permanently changed racing strategy, and people will use smoke signals if need be to keep the concept in place. It is a game of tactics, after all.

  5. George

    Of course radios should go. It’s necessary for the future of the sport. With the combination of radios and Cav’s dominance right now, I can barely make myself watch the flat stages.

    but my real dream for the new year;

    Could it be possible that the seemingly high volume of top end tour riders could force some of them to shift their attention on to other tours? Ala Sastre deciding to focus on the Giro? What if Sastre and a Schleck and a Garmin decide to fight out the Giro? and then Levi and Menchov and Sanchez decide to fight out the Vuelta? We, as Americans might get to watch all three tours! The first thing Armstrong ever did that truly endeared himself to me, was race the Giro.

    Will Indurain really have been the last guy to double? I want to see that again.

    and down with radios!

  6. dave1949

    Lance is not going to win unless it is a gift from above. He is a year older and at this time in his career that means a year slower not better. Contador and the Schlecks can ride away from him anytime they want to in the hills and Contador showed he can also do it in a time trial now.
    The Schlecks need to decide if they want to win or finish together.

  7. Luke

    Better yet – why not just have a “public” radio that calls out obstacles, distance the break has, etc. Everyone gets at least the must important information without adding tactics from the DSes. My favorite idea so far.

  8. Marshdrifter

    As a concession to safety, I think there should be race radio, but not team radios. One channel with which riders could call in hazards, and then everybody knows. Penalties for non-emergency use. That sort of thing.

  9. Trevor Hall

    One of my all-time favorite Tour scenes is just after Lance’s attack on Alpe d’Huez. Jan is trying to claw his way back, but you notice his earpiece is dangling. Maybe it fell out, or maybe he just got tired of hearing Rudy screaming in his ear. “I will either catch Lance, or I will expire with the effort.” –is what he seems to be saying.

    Yes, I got myself a single-speed MTB this year. No, it doesn’t have a computer. Just me, the bike, the mountain, and the sound of my heart exploding.

  10. Souleur

    As most of you know, I am a traditionalist in a most strict sense. I love technology, and I also deeply respect our tradition and history. I love the raw elements, I love steel, I love 32h soldered tubulars, I love watching the old spring classics w/Eddy and DeVlaeminck. They are incredible to consider.

    To do away with Radio’s, which I am not sure will/can happen, it undoubtedly would bring back a sense that I would just love to see in the peloton. Because something special would happen each and every day’s ride, the Rider would look at his opposition that day, he would size him up like a prized fighter, he would look at the silouette of his legs, he would notice the very breath he would take, the rhythm, the depth, and notice things like they used to, head up or head down? What is in his spirit. Having read the notes in history now, it is amazing to note how they use to size each other up, and they would notice the subtlety of a strain pattern in ones calves, and know that…NOW is the time to dig and dig deep and bury him. Now they just attack, counter attack until the director discloses ‘it worked’….

    Along with radio’s is, I agree, doing away with the TV, satellites, no chalk boards from the Mavic motorcycles, removing and all of it. That would really add an unpredicability to the race. Great ideas to think about and oh, if it only could happen.

    Heck, radio’s may become the new dope if this happened. I can see it now, so-&-so had an implanted ‘illegal’ radio in his left ear….:-) Got a 2 year ban.

  11. wvcycling

    One radio per team. That way all team members would either have to go back to the car, or go to the tethered team member to get info.

    Some unpredictability does need to be placed upon the sport though. Seriously quick step is the lucky scourge of the classics.

  12. Joe

    I think this video clip is a perfect example of why race radios should be banned: http://tinyurl.com/yaphh8j Do you really need a DS to tell you to pace yourself, don’t panic? Or, left turn coming up, pay attention? Panic is exactly what we want, we also want uncertainty and missteps.

    Most of the people that favor race radios never raced, let alone raced pre and post race radios. The entire dynamic of the peloton changed with the arrival of radios. Simply put, you didn’t have to pay attention anymore, you didn’t have to think, someone was doing it for you. Hinault and Merckx didn’t win all those races, simply because they were the strongest, many of those wins were due to their cunning and tactical brilliance, their ability to outsmart their competition. Blah, blah, blah, race radios suck.

    For those who argue about safety, give one guy per team a radio that is connected to “race radio” only. If there are dangers on the road, let race radio convey that “neutral” information to the squads.

  13. Touriste-Routier

    The race radio for safety argument is mostly BS. The top races are well marshaled, and the DS driving behind the field won’t see that pile of bricks until after the riders have somersaulted over it.

    Where race radios provide their value is in terms of the speeding up of support (I have a flat, I need a bottle, etc.), and the relaying of information (time gaps, composition of breaks, etc.). The DS can relay info coming from Radio Tour (the race organization’s official communication service; each team gets issued a 2-way radio) or via public media coverage. While I am not a fan of them, radio communication with riders are an evolution. I don’t think their ban will change tactics much (the pro riders generally aren’t complete morons), but they will be implemented differently, as information will not be as readily transmitted. Hopefully this will make for more breaks staying away.

    The problem with banning public media coverage in the team cars (as unsafe as it is) is one of enforceability. That train left the station long ago. You can watch TV on mobile phones, and the team cars have sponsors and VIPs in addition to the DS. Like doping, you can ban it, but you won’t stop it…

  14. Alex Torres

    If they could get away with TV and GPS on the DS cars, I guess it´d be OK to have radios. Looks to me that the whole electronica used these days is what´s taking some from the sport. They can calculate everything drawing from TV images and global positioning devices. Perhaps a race radio for the team car, and another team radio to warn the riders and stuff would keep it safe and fair at the same.

    But since (from my perspective) it should be harder to completely rule out such electronic aids than fighting doping, the only way to really make things more unpredictable and exciting during these races it to cut the communication between DS´and the riders. So they can exercise their brains as well as their legs and lungs like they did back in the day.

  15. Henry

    Contador will be the target of every team with a contender. The only way any of them have a chance is if they can cooperate to take him down. Lance along with the Schleks and a select few will be watched and respected but it’s Alberto you have to beat if you want the yellow.

    I think Contador is in for a bigger trial by fire this year then last, if he pulls it off I don’t think it will be boring in the least. You underestimate the challenges he will face with Saxo, Radio Shack and a few others gunning for him and a team inferior to his competitors to back him. We will get to see what he is made of.

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