FGR #27 Wrap

The funny thing about the Group Ride, about any Group Ride really, is that it almost never goes quite the way you expect it to. You set out on a route you think you know, but then some big bastard you’ve never seen before comes roaring past on the left and your paceline goes to hell and by the time you get to the turn around you’re too tired to choke back an espresso and a fig newton.

And thus it went with this week’s group chat about technology in the pro peloton. For the most part, we ended up talking about TT bikes and deep dish carbon rims at amateur races. This topic wasn’t really on the route, but you know, the beauty of a group ride is that the group finds its own route, and I found it very interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on the non-pro peloton.

Those who did address the pros, tended to focus on race radios. I’ve yet to meet a race fan who supports the use of radios, but that might have more to do with not depending on them to be in the right place in the race at the right time. In other words, of course WE want to see racing get harder. The pros themselves, who are already pushing their bodies and brains to the absolute limit just to stay in a job, tend to appreciate the radios. Maybe we can allow them their race radios, if they’ll agree to give up their TT bikes. Or vice versa. It’s all about compromise, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you the truth, and so far everyone I’ve shared these views with thinks I’m absolutely zipper-down, drooling insane, I’d ban an awful lot from those carbon race machines we see week in and week out. To start with, I want to be rid of cyclocomputers and power meters. I’d ban anything that requires electricity. If you ride 300 training miles per week and don’t know what 45kph feels like, then what are you doing all that time? If you need a small black box to tell you how long you can sustain your current effort then, to me, you’ve not been paying any attention.

It’s “information doping.” See, I can make up silly cycling phrases too!

The larger point is that all of this information dulls the racer and the racing. It allows the peloton to calculate, within a few hundred meters, EXACTLY how hard they need to ride to catch the break at the line. It’s one thing to have a man on a motorbike tell you that there are four riders, two minutes up the road. It’s quite another to be able to look down at a digital dashboard and know that if you ride at precisely 34.6kph for the next twenty minutes you’ll overtake those impertinent bastards before they can put any time into you. That, to me, is not bike racing.

The power meters all but guarantee that a rider doesn’t over exert himself, or, that if he does, he can do it strategically, rather than squandering his beyond max effort in a race he won’t win anyway. Over the course of a three-week race these tools make it possible for riders to conserve their energy in ways that open, less information-rich racing wouldn’t allow. It affects results, and these bits of technology are not the bike. They are accessories, and I don’t think they belong.

Of course, the pros, by and large, love them. Computers and power meters make their jobs easier. You’d have as much luck getting them to give these things up as you would pulling the coffee maker out of the RKP office. It won’t happen.

And I’m probably the only one who thinks these things are even a problem. It’s not that I’m against technology. I have no problem with new frame materials being introduced, though I do like the idea of some uniformity, just so that it’s the riders racing and not the machines. I just think the UCI ought to be very careful about what it allows the riders to use that isn’t a bicycle, in their efforts to win a race.

Whether it’s EPO, a seat tube motor, a radio or a GPS unit, you have to see that it has an effect on the race. I’m in favor of quads and brains deciding the outcome, strategy and teamwork.

Call me old-fashioned.

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  1. Sean

    OK, you’re old-fashioned….and I agree 100%. I used to love watching Pedro Delgado wreck the strategies in the peloton with his attacks and unpredictable moves. I can’t think of many if any riders today that race like that but then again the team reigns superior now more than it did then. And like you point out, the computers etc. allow the minute calculation that turns that gusty Bordeaux into Gallo jug wine.

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  3. mark

    I would also ban the use of English units of measurement in the US and force us to adopt the metric system. That way we could all become familiar enough with it to realize that “if you ride at precisely 34.6kph for the next twenty minutes you’ll…” [NEVER] “…overtake those impertinent bastards before they can put any time into you.”

    Unless you’re riding up a hill of course, in which case 34.6kph (21.5mph) may be absolutely flying.

    Sorry for the hijack. Back to the regularly scheduled program.

  4. randomactsofcycling

    Good point Robot. I wonder how many races Jacky Durand would have won if he knew how much power he was putting out in the first ten minutes of one of his ‘suicide’ early race attacks. “Merde! 500 watts…….”

  5. Henry

    I think it’s a great idea. Anything that is powered by anything other then the riders legs should be banned. They can use all those gizmos in training. That’s what training and race prep are for.

    Otherwise racers are just avatars for a DS who is controlling them from his cockpit and deciding every ounce of effort, every attack and every move that get’s made. That might make life easier for an athlete under stress but it doesn’t make for great racing.

  6. Derek Salley

    Being old, unfit, and relatively new to cycling, I’ll admit that I like my Garmin, but I can see your point. With mapmyride, it’s pretty easy to plot and upload what a race route looks like without actually riding it or seeing it. But a pro, with nothing better to do all day long until July than pre-ride the Pyrenees, is going to know every crack and crevace of pavement before the Tour starts, and if he doesn’t, well that’s just bad preparation and planning. Whether his Garmin tells him he has 5k to the summit, a motorbike tells him that, or he has a piece of tape on his top-tube telling him that he does (the preferred pre-GPS trackplot for pros), he knows.

    I’m surprised too that RKP guy is so bent on powermeters, rather than HRMs. The former just tells you what you want to do, the latter tells you what you can do. Oh sure, a month ago during the preride, maybe 600 watts was possible, but ask Andy Schleck how that was going when he was struggling through ATOC, severly ill. Being 17 days into a grand tour is probably not the same as the “fresh-legged pre-ride from back in February, either.” Regardless of any target wattage, if you’re buried above LT for an hour, it’s gonna catch up to you. The real culprit I’ll suggest is that very basic HRM. Get rid of that and make guys work on RPE, and then things would get interesting as guys blew up left right and center not precisely knowing how deep into the red they were, and for how long.

    I don’t envy those guys the task of sitting in with 188 other guys around them, facing horrible weather, horrible roads and horribly large crowds with dogs that never seem to be on leash (actual dogs, I don’t mean Mark Cavendish, but I can see how a person might think that too). Sure, it’s their job, and it’s tough, and that’s why domestiques get paid that whopping USD50,000 they make every year, but again, it’s not something I’d relish day in and day out. Even with the radios, the peloton managed to mess up almost every stage of this year’s Giro- breaks ran free, the pink jersey changed hands to whatsisnames… poor sprinters.

    Maybe it’s not the radios that make the Tour boring sometimes. Maybe it’s those darned easy French roads?
    Or maybe it’s those wheels being made of something other than wood? Heck, back in the old days Mavic painted their steel rims brown to look like wood – maybe the first example of mechanical doping? Or perhaps it’s what the French like to call “derailleurs”. Too many gears – the race was more interesting when they had to get off and flip the wheel around to use that second gear?

    Oh well, sure hope I get to see every stage live via satellite in HD…

  7. Matt

    Imagine, the following rules for all road racing and TTs:
    – no race radios
    – no rims deeper than 50mm
    – no aerobars
    – no powermeters (great for training and the big price discrepancy is disappearing anyway)

    Two things I sorely miss: 1. The old system of no contact except a motorbike zooming up and down the road with a blackboard containing split times. 2. The purity of riders smashing themselves on a standard frame with drop bars in a 40km TT.

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