USAC Bans Race Radios, Mostly

USA Cycling, in response to a request from the UCI, has banned race radios in almost all road and track events. With the exception of UCI HC or Category 1 races, radios and audio playback devices (iPods and MP3 players to us normal folk) may not be used. Effectively, that means you’ll see radios still in use in all the events that actually result in race-watching tourism: the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Missouri, the Philadelphia International Classic (men) and Liberty Classic (women).

Last fall, the UCI banned race radio use in all races with a .2 classification. USAC’s action extends that ban to non-UCI-sanctioned events, thereby ensuring that you won’t see radios in use in any Pro/I/II events. The same is true for similar category European-held events, as was announced a few months ago, but this expansion of the ban—which also includes “audio playback devices”—moves things a small step closer to an outright ban on race radios in the events we cycling fans really follow.

For radio bans to extend further one of the best developments that could take place is for race organizers elect to ban them from their races. The Amaury Sport Organization is the obvious candidate for this as they could try it in a race such as Paris-Nice before considering it in an event such as Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France.

Team can be expected to fight any expansion of this rule with the fervor of a gang war, but the arbiter will be race outcomes. The success of a suicide break or two will give the UCI all the ammo it needs to push its will into all the ProTour events.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. rusty at feepish

    > We are going to start seeing Garmin GPS units that
    > can receive text messages in the next year or so….

    “Riders may not use radios, telephones, or other such communication devices. No earpieces may be worn.”

    i’m guessing text messaging counts as an “other such communication device.”

    …but the rule follows that with the bit about earpieces.

    a poorly worded rule from the uci? giggle.

  2. Aaron Hawkins

    I may be one of the few who believe so, but I’m excited to see racers thinking for themselves. It is amazing to see riders come up with little to no tactical wisdom. Teams and riders allow breaks to go, and their DS has already calculated the time gap allowable, and then they pounce when told. Its a little stale to see races end up as such.

    Breakaways are exciting, and the best way to win a bike race, and I think are much more inspiring to young fans and to the young at heart. Sprints are fast, brutal efforts after a day’s worth of sitting in the field. They are exciting too, but I much prefer the sight of a lone rider crossing the line after laying it all out there.

    Its a polarising move, and the naysayers report safety as the biggest concern. While I can agree that communication about rider safety is of the utmost importance, it is the DS who needs to know immediately. It will be an interesting switch when it takes place, and all we mortals can do is sit back and see what happens.

  3. jza

    +1 on the texting, probably already happening. The peloton will start to look like the food court at the mall.

    I still firmly believe that anyone who thinks no radios will make bike races more interesting has never watched or participated in a bike race.

  4. swissarmy

    With about 350 amateur races under my belt, I for one would rather see radios completely banned. We’re about to see a Super Bowl with a quarterback who is given the freedom to call his plays at the line of scrimmage, within a set of guidelines set out in the game plan. It’s exciting to see a guy like Peyton Manning at the top of his game, perhaps doing it without the physical gifts that other players have, but winning games tactically and strategically.

    Let us have cyclists who develop those skills along with instincts that tell them what to do and when to do it. All I ever see when I see live or video feeds of the DS in a car talking to his riders on a radio is inane stuff like “come on, come on, you can do it” type stuff. If I were a pro these days it would drive me nuts. I would know I could do it, and when I should do it, and I wouldn’t need a voice in my ear to tell me that.

    I also agree with Aaron about breakaways being one of the most exciting things to see in a race. Without radios it would add uncertainty to the outcome and make it more entertaining to see, and would make riders have to measure out the effort and be savvy enough to be able to hold off the chase, perhaps only by instincts gained from experience. And the chasers would have to do the same. I’ll always be a fan of the mental game over the physical game, and radios have pretty much taken a that away from the riders.

  5. Alex Torres

    Competitive cycling has over 100 years of existence. Radios have been in use for what, a 5th of that time (perhps 20, or 10 years more intensively at most?)? Some racers and teams are make such a noise out of this that it seems we´re going back to the caves or completely erradicating radios from the face of earth forever. Nice, if the ban proves really disastrous to cycling they can still go back to the radio, no big deal. We can adapt, one way or another. It´ll be interesting at the very least!

  6. redcliffs

    As someone who has never raced, I would like a clear assessment of the safety issues at stake — are they legitimate? In what contexts? Are there viable ways to address them while getting radios out of team cars (e.g., an official race feed that provides the same information to all riders simultaneously)?

    Regarding the question of tactics, for me, last years Giro was absolute proof that the racing will be improved by the elimination of radios. Menchov’s choices were, in my mind, clearly effected by the amount of information he was being given by the team car.

  7. Touriste-Routier

    The safety aspects are being highly overplayed.

    Remember, the DS is well behind the riders. They are looking at the Tech Guide (the race bible) issued by the race organizers to all teams. This contains critical information about the courses including turn-by-turn directions, locations and profiles of climbs, sprints, feed zones, markers, etc. They have profile maps, and diagrams of finishing sections, as well as notations of known hazards. The DS may also have notes from reconnaissance trips over the course. Teams typically review this stuff before the races, but a gentle reminder in the ear is very helpful.

    However, in pro races, race marshals with flags typically stand in front of major hazards. If it were a real safety issue, all riders could have radios with the broadcast coming from the race director, technical director, or commasaire

    What the riders will probably miss most is how race radios improve rider support. A rider can tell the DS if he has a mechanical problem, well before dropping to the back of the bunch, so the commasaire can see him and then radio the DS (or neutral support) over Radio Tour (the official communication between the officials and the team cars)to move up and service the rider. These time savings are very valuable. The same holds true for fetching bottles, food, clothing, communicating where staff is in feed zones, etc.

    Riders may also miss communicating with their teammates in critical situations (between groups, or letting someone know you’ve been dropped, etc.). Less experienced riders will certainly miss receiving instructions; experienced riders may miss receiving key info, but I am sure many will appreciate the silence. You may notice less hugs and team celebrations after the finish, as riders won’t immediately know that their teammate won.

    The riders will still have plenty of info; time boards, though not as accurate or timely, will still be present, and the km to go signs are mandated by the UCI. 1:00 per 10k remaining will still be the rule of thumb for chasing down breaks. Often riders get cards with profiles and important info on them; you sometimes see them pull these out of their pockets for a glance during the coverage of Grand Tours.

    Hopefully the ban will lead to more exciting and less predictable racing. There will probably be an adjustment period where the riders go slow, or don’t give breaks as much leash, but it should all settle out eventually.

    How do I know this stuff? I am on the technical staff at a number of UCI sanctioned events in the US, and have previously worked with some pro teams.

  8. randomactsofcycling

    How about this as an example of how ‘radio-less’ racing is more interesting: Tour Down Under 2010 – Allan Davis, Astana’s No.1 rider for this event, is inattentive on a windy day and misses a split in the bunch that the rest of his team mates have made. He loses a huge chunk of time on the day and any hope of a repeat GC victory. ‘Alby’ admitted after the stage that his team were riding without radios and therefore he couldn’t get his DS to instruct his team mates and have them tow him back to the bunch.
    This kind of incident only has to occur two or three times for everyone to learn the lesson: be attentive, know the road and the conditions.
    I can only see the removal of radios as benefitting racing. I am sure Pro Cyclists are sick of all of us calling them robots but at least now we’ll know who the complete racers are, rather than just the fastest cyclists.

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