Team managers are hopeful the flood of crashes and incidents that have marred the Tour de France this year will lead cycling’s governing body to reconsider its decision to ban radio communication during races.
Several top Tour contenders, including Bradley Wiggins of Britain and Jurgen Van den Broeck of Belgium, have been forced to withdraw from the race during a crash-filled first week. On Sunday, two riders were sideswiped by a reckless driver in a car.
“The discussions with the UCI [International Cycling Union] are still a bit blocked, but I hope that after what we saw in the first part of this year’s Tour it will heighten the attention on safety issues,” Leopard-Trek team manager Brian Nygaard said on Tuesday.
The professional cycling teams’ association has threatened to boycott the Tour of Beijing in October if the UCI doesn’t overturn the ban. This week, the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA), led by two-time world champion Gianni Bugno, issued a statement calling for safer conditions for riders.
“Let’s not forget that they are the real protagonists of every race,” Bugno said.
The international riders’ union wants the UCI to only issue licenses to drivers if they’re sufficiently experienced and to strengthen the sanctions for any future accidents.
“Considering the difficulty guaranteeing safety in the race now, it pains me to even imagine what will happen when ear radios become banned in major races, as is planned by the UCI,” Bugno said. “Let’s hope that some decisions are looked at again, and as was said before, that the riders and their safety is put ahead of everything else.”
The UCI says radio communication on the road distorts the true nature of the sport, but most teams counter that the use of earpieces improves riders’ safety. The UCI first banned radio communications last season in lower-level races.
“The UCI’s arguments are that earpieces can have an influence on race results, but in a race like the Tour de France, it has no influence at all,” said RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel, whose team has been decimated by the crashes.
“Our main argument is that today, everything is getting bigger with more and more cars on the roads. When the riders need assistance it’s very difficult to reach them in the peloton, even with earpieces. That’s why it’s unthinkable to race without earpieces,” Bruyneel said.
Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, the winner of the opening stage and wearing the green jersey as the top sprinter, agrees.
“I think it’s necessary in big races like the Tour,” he said. “I had a mechanical problem earlier in the race and my team was able to provide quick assistance.”
Garmin-Cervelo manager Jonathan Vaughters said he needs to be able to inform his riders when a possible hazard is coming up on the road.
“The Tour has become something extremely professional — there are sponsors who pay millions of dollars to the big teams here — trying to turn the sport into an amateurish thing, to bring down the technology, to race like Fausto Coppi, is not a good solution. I think that it devalues the sport,” Vaughters said.
The American former racer, who is also president of the professional teams’ organization, said progress is being made in discussions with the UCI about the issue.
“Hopefully, we are going to come to a resolution pretty soon,” Vaughters said.
Bruyneel says he would accept a ban on earpieces in smaller races as there are fewer cars and spectators, but Nygaard says that riders’ safety should be paramount in all events.
“The Tour is the most important race in the world,” Nygaard said. “But the riders’ safety is important at the Giro and at the Grand Prix de Plouay, too. As a team manager, I cannot accept that we downscale riders’ safety because of the financial interests of the race.”
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