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.