The Wednesday Comment

Having long advocated a ban on earpiece radios for the riders, it nevertheless seems strange to ban them for two stages of the Tour de France.

Radios will be barred from stage 10 between Limoges and Issoudun, and stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar, meaning riders will have to drop off the back of the bunch to visit their team cars for instructions, or rely on their instincts.

The two stages chosen are precisely the kind of unpredictable days that could upset the applecart. The stage from Limoges has three fourth-category climbs early on, and if a break gets away it could take a while for the bunch to get accurate information, making the job of reeling in the escapees to order much more difficult.

Stage 13 to Colmar could be anarchic, with four difficult climbs towards the end and, for the overall contenders, this is now a very difficult one to control because it’ll be hard to know who’s where on the road or precisely what to do about it.

People often marvel at how the peloton rarely slips up on the flat stages, how they pull in the break in the final few kilometres with almost robotic precision, but it’s hardly surprising when the team managers are able to give accurate time checks and riders and teams can communicate freely and easily to arrange alliances at the front of the bunch.

The argument in favour of radios is that they make the racing safer because the managers can tell riders about any difficulties or obstacles coming up.

Having travelled in the Columbia-Highroad team car at Ghent-Wevelgem earlier this year, I must admit to being surprised at the economy of instructions issued by the team manager, Brian Holm.

Far from bellowing at his riders, overloading them with information, Holm’s instructions were on a need-to-know basis. Yes, he warned when the cobbles and hills were coming up, and he explained when the race would be changing direction so the riders would know when the wind would be switching.

But he wasn’t able to point out every traffic island or roundabout, as some team managers would have you believe is essential for the safety of the race.

I’m looking forward to the Tour’s two-day experiment to see what effect, if any, it has on the race, but it is very strange to cherry-pick two stages. Somehow it seems to distort the racing. It’d be strange is something astonishing did happen on the stage to Colmar, and a couple of favourites lost out badly, because the recriminations would be loud and bitter, possibly jeopardising the case for banning radios all together.

If the team managers and riders firmly believe the race radios are essential for safety, then how about all the riders are hooked up to one Radio-Tour frequency, where a neutral member of the organisation can issue warnings?

Gert Steegmans looks set to miss the Tour de France because he has refused to sign the Katusha team’s contract which states he would have to pay back up to five times his annual salary in the event of a positive dope test.

On the face of it, Katusha’s initiative looks hard-hitting, as if they mean business and won’t stand for any nonsense.

On closer inspection it is nothing of the sort. When will people realise that threatening people with financial sanctions does not equal a moral ethos. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite.

What Katusha has effectively done is put all its riders out on a limb, exposed to the possibilities of making poor judgements, instead of putting an arm around their shoulders and ushering them into an environment where the rules are clear and there is support, encouragement and understanding.

This is not an ‘anti-doping charter’ as Katusha would like everyone to believe, it’s an easy, cheap (and potentially lucrative) way to pass the buck and body-swerve responsibility.

Who’s going to win the National Championship titles at Abergavenny at the weekend?

After respective wins in the Grande Boucle Feminine and Giro del Trentino, Emma Pooley and Nicole Cooke are in top form. Cooke is bidding for her 10th title, which would put her just two behind Beryl Burton, who won 12 times between 1959 and 1974. Pooley may rue the fact the women’s race is not going over The Tumble, as that may have given her greater opportunity to put Cooke on the back foot.

As for the men’s race, the field is arguably the strongest of all time. Almost all the foreign-based riders are returning (although Charly Wegelius is one notable absentee).

It will be very interesting to see how Peter Kennaugh goes after finishing third overall and winning a stage in the amateur Giro d’Italia, which is open to riders under the age of 27. Kennaugh was runner-up last year, and this season he has continued to demonstrate that he is maturing into the complete rider.

At the risk of piling the pressure on a rider who has only just turned 20, it is becoming clear that if he continues to develop along the same lines, there’s every chance British Cycling will have another superstar on their hands.

Key figures at the UCI have often held Formula 1 up as an example of where professional cycling is headed.

Given the chaos that has beset the elite wing of motor racing in the past fortnight, perhaps Pat McQuaid has been onto something all along?

Like cycling, the problems are all derived from a rampant pursuit of self-interest. Some want reform for the long-term good of the sport, others simply want to carry on as they always have.

Meanwhile, last week the UCI invited four media organisations to question Anne Gripper about the biological passport results. The UCI claims it chose the three news agencies and website on the basis that it would have been difficult to invite the entire world’s media to join in on a phone conference call.

If that was the case, the UCI should perhaps have decided which questions it wanted to ask itself and send out a press release with the answers, because that would have achieved the same thing.

The Wednesday Comment will take a break for the Tour de France. Look out for regular The Tour de France Comment.


The Wednesday Comment: June 17

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