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The Race Radio
Described by Bradley Wiggins as “codswallop” but seen by some purists and riders, such as David Millar, as the only way to revive the drama of the sport, the UCI’s controversial experimentation with removing race radios has divided opinion. Here we present two contrasting views on the subject from team manager John Herety and one of his more outspoken riders, Tom Southam.
Keep the Race Radio
WORDS: John Herety - team manager UCI Continental Team, Rapha Condor Sharp
The final nail in the coffin has been struck for teams like Rapha Condor Sharp using Race Radios. As of 2011 their use will only be permitted in hors categorie races, events we, as a continental team, are ineligible to ride. Without a doubt in my mind this a retro step and one where the UCI has completely gone against the wishes of the majority of both managers and riders. I say majority, as you will read the words of our own Tom Southam on the subject later.
Let's cut to the chase; the UCI believe that without them the racing will be more exciting and less predictable, with an increased chance of the more cavalier type rider or escape group succeeding in their efforts, thus making for better TV. Now correct me if I'm wrong but with the exception of only one or two races here in the UK it's only hors categorie races that are televised!
The UCI also said that the continued use of radios in hors categorie races was on safety grounds… Oh, so they’re not bothered about the safety of the lower ranked races, which incidentally have less road closures and police cover…
Our own experience last season, where the ban was first introduced to the lower category races, did not see a host of riders suddenly staying away. All that happened was the race shut down earlier, not allowing riders to get a sufficient enough lead that was difficult for any team to bring back.
Interestingly, the topic always came up with every journalist and guest that entered the team car last season, and my response was always the same: Listen to how many times during the course of the stage we are asked to point out traffic problems, road surface problems, safety aspects by the commissaries, at least half a dozen times every stage, it was my pet hate all last season… Hello! We don't have race radios anymore, you took them away!
Now I know the counter argument, that when a dangerous bend, section, incident was announced this caused potentially more crashes because all the managers told their riders to get to the front at the same time. That has never been my experience, it’s far better to know of the danger and be given a heads up.
If anything, the race radio should be allowed in the lower ranks so it can be used as a teaching tool helping the younger riders learn their trade. And so, I believe the UCI have missed a trick here completely. Instead of banning them they should have embraced radios in the manner of Formula One and allow television viewers to listen into team rider/manager interaction during the race. I think that would have made for fascinating viewing.
Anyway, anybody want to buy £2,000 worth of race radios?
Ban the Race Radio
WORDS: Tom Southam - UCI Continental rider, Rapha Condor Sharp
Something odd occurred to me when they introduced the radio ban last year; a majority of my teammates had never ridden a serious race without a race radio. This shocked me, as I suddenly realised most of them had never made a decision or adapted to a situation in a race without directions barked through their earpiece.
I was on the cusp of that generation. In my final junior year, the national team had these TV-remote-size things that we wasted the entire battery on talking to each other in the lift or the lobby on the way to the race. Back then (1999) it was a huge novelty; the radios would provide some time gap information, they would let the manager tell us when the next difficulty was coming up and they were, to be honest, quite useful. However, I spent many years racing without a radio - I chose to spend most of my races with my radio earpiece ripped out.
There is nothing less encouraging to me than to be told to go harder when I am already going as hard as I can. There is also nothing more annoying than the over-zealous teammate who feels the need to start a running commentary from kilometre zero (they exist – believe me).
To put it bluntly, I found race radio’s to be an irritation, a distraction more than anything. That is in large part because of the rider I am. I already race at the front of any bunch I am in, I always know how many people are down the road, and what the time gap is, plus I pay attention to the road conditions so I don’t need to be warned of any danger. Not all riders are like this, some guys like to doze at the back, waiting for their time to rise to the top. Some often have no idea what the race situation is or what is coming up. More fool them, I say. In a race it should be down to the men in the race to do the racing. If something happens, then tant pis for the riders who weren’t paying attention.
Radios change the playing field. They turn cycling from the sport that it was into American football, where the real stars of the sport are not the players but the managers. You see, it’s not just race radios that the UCI want to ban. Radios have a small influence on the racing, however, when combined with a TV feed to the team car, detailed analysis of each riders current power readings, plus microscopic detail of the upcoming gradients, wind conditions and any other variable en route, then the sport becomes stifled. People are drawn to the bike riders who can take a risk, or who have the skills to deal with what is happening.
Race radios are about managers wanting to cut out any risk of their riders losing. They are stuck in a car and feel that without their interjection it will all go wrong. Every rider knows how to win a race, the pattern isn’t that difficult, what is difficult is working out how and when to do it, and there is no doubt this is the sign of the real champions. Managers feel that responsibility stops at them, they are the ones who entice the big sponsor, and increasingly with the type of sponsors getting on board, there is less room to lose.
Another point that irks me is safety. Radios don’t stop crashes, that is absolute rubbish, risks cause crashes. What causes people to take risks is competition. Professional cycling is all about competition, pure and simple. Riders will always crash; an example would be the farce at the Tour this year, when riders looked for all sorts of excuses as to why they made a mockery of the stage to Spa. The fact of the matter is, had the riders (who KNEW about the danger on that particular descent) simply slowed down and looked after one another for a kilometre or two, no one would have fallen, and they still would have caught “Smiler” before the finish.
I like to race using all my skills and intelligence to succeed, it is what I thought the sport was all about. I might be wrong or that may just be an antiquated version of the sport, never to be seen again.
But what the hell – I pull my earpiece out once we’ve done the radio check anyway…
Keep up to date with Rapha Condor Sharp this season via the website: raphacondor.cc
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