Comment: The commissaire’s revenge

Was Jody Cundy the unlucky recipient of a UCI commissaire backlash? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Current C5 kilometre world champion Cundy was a favourite for the men’s kilometre at the Paralympics today, but a slip out of the start gate cost him a medal, and even the chance to complete four laps of the London track.

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As he moved his bodyweight forward and pushed down with his left leg to get out of the starting gate his rear wheel spun and slipped left down the track. He stayed upright but as soon as he was balanced on the bike he put his hand up to call the mishap and the restart.

He could have continued, and perhaps even still won gold (he’s that far ahead of the competition) but he simply did what every other rider would have done had they realised something was wrong. He called the mishap instinctively and without thinking.

Only the commissaires didn’t allow him one. In ten years of reporting on track racing I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone denied a restart after such an incident. The British coaches appealed but the commissaire judged there was no mishap and therefore no restart was allowed. Cundy was furious, and stormed out of the track centre shouting and gesticulating at the officials (he later took to the PA system to apologise for his language).

Cundy, and his coach Chris Furber, believed the gate didn’t release correctly and that caused the wheelspin, an event that is always judged to be a mishap.

When talking on Channel Four, British Cycling’s Steve Peters said the commissaire had told the British team there was no technical fault and therefore it wasn’t mishap. But there is no mention of technical faults anywhere in the UCI rules.

A later press release quoting the UCI’s technical delegate Louis Barbeau said there was nothing wrong with the starting gate, there was no recognised mishap, and without a recognised mishap there cannot be a restart.

This is what the UCI rules say about mishaps:

In the case of a false start the rider shall restart immediately.

In the case of a mishap, the rider shall take a new start after a rest of approximately 15 minutes

A rider may be only permitted to have a total of 2 starts.

Elsewhere in the rules the term ‘mishap’ is explained:

Recognised mishap
The following shall be considered recognised mishaps

A fall

A puncture

The breakage of an essential part of the bicycle

All other incidents are considered un-recognised mishaps.

The wording here suddenly becomes important. It suggests that an un-recognised mishap is still a mishap, and therefore the rules on a restart would still apply. Otherwise it should say; ‘All other incidents are not considered mishaps’, or, ‘an un-recognised mishap does not earn a rider a restart’.

Semantics aside, riders are always allowed a restart when something goes wrong in the split second they leave the starting gate. So why wasn’t Cundy? To understand this perhaps we have to look in to the complex mind of a sports governing body.

The UCI works on a reactive basis, often using the arbitrary nature of its own rules to enforce a clampdown. After a high profile event they will have a debrief and I believe this happened after the Olympic Games.

This takes us back to Philip Hindes. When the young Briton threw himself to the track in the men’s team sprint at the Olympics three weeks ago the team was allowed a restart. He claimed he had lost control and fallen off, and this comes under that wonderfully vague term – mishap.

On reviewing the incident the UCI’s track commission would have known it was deliberate and should not have earned a restart. Those who enforce the rules don’t like having the wool pulled over their eyes, and the likelihood is the UCI would have briefed their commissaires on starts and told them to apply the rules rigidly.

Today that has cost Cundy a shot at retaining his Paralympic gold medal in the kilometre. We can add the ‘mishap’ rule to the ever growing list of UCI rules that need a rethink or rewrite.