Only the French could come up with something as backward-thinking as banning race radios in professional bicycle races. Soon after the UCI announced their ban on radios in races below the top levels, Canada and Australia followed with their own bans soon after. Not wanting to be the last one to jump into the hole, USA Cycling has now banned all race radios–save for three major races–in the country. On the heels of this news, we’re now waiting for the announcement from the PGA that all metal woods will be eliminated from competition going forward.
Phil Liggett must be jumping up and down with this decision. On many a Tour de France broadcast, Phil has made his feelings known regarding race radios and how the sport should go back to its purer form. I love Phil. He and Paul are the greatest broadcasting team on television, but I couldn’t disagree with him more on this issue.
The argument for the ban is centered on the idea that the riders don’t think for themselves anymore in the middle of races; that all they do is wait for their marching orders from the team car and then proceed on those instructions. What seems to be missing, though, is the fact that teams mull their strategy and tactics over before the start of each stage and then alter those plans on the road as the race unfolds. Sometimes that’s accomplished via radio and sometimes there’s no time to wait and riders must react to situations instantly. Either way, the response from the riders is spontaneous and whether the instructions come from an earpiece or from the elder statesman on the road shouldn’t matter.
All you have to really do is look at a few races in the Tour de France to see that riders are not robotically following instructions from the team car. The stage to Andorra in last year’s tour is a good example. I guarantee that Johan Bruyneel from Team Radioshack did not instruct Alberto Contador to bolt from the group of elite riders with three kilometers to go, but Contador did anyways. Another example would be Alexander Vinokourov’s less-than-friendly team tactics in the 2005 Tour de France when he and Jan Ulrich seemed to be working against each other instead of helping one another. Certainly those disorganized tactics weren’t emanating from their earpieces.
No matter the sport, any time there is an effort to stop the progress of innovation, it invariably comes back to smack the traditionalists in the face. Looking at the golden years of cycling–when the technology for race radios didn’t exist–as something to be emulated is a truly misguided adventure. People, society, and sport all move forward in technological progress, and that progress should be nurtured and channeled, not shunned and banned.
By David Mullin, staff writer