Giro d'Italia

Commentary: More UCI overreach at Giro d’Italia

The UCI is on a tear these days, regulating, banning and measuring every millimeter of a bike and its components. Lennard Zinn is clearly annoyed.

UCI commissaires have been adding to the workload of mechanics on SRAM-sponsored teams at stage races all over Europe this season, and the Giro is no exception. The issue is that SRAM’s R2C aero-bar shift levers return to their original position after each shift in either direction; new UCI  rules can be interpreted as counting the lever as being an extension of the aero bar; and UCI rule 1.3.023 proscribes the extension of the ends of the aero bars beyond a maximum horizontal distance forward of the bottom bracket.

RadioShack mechanic Alan Buttler indicates one possible solution: levers both pointed down. Lennard Zinn photo

Prior to Tirreno-Adriatico, the UCI sent out a communiqué to the teams regarding the SRAM R2C shifters, and it mandated that if the levers return to the horizontal position, then the lever would be counted as part of the extension. This presumably would not be an issue with the R2C levers, because the neutral position of the lever to which it returns can be adjusted over a wide range of up- and down-angles, not just horizontal. Of course, the regulation never should have been promulgated by the UCI in the first place, because the rider cannot pull or lean on the lever or otherwise use it as a handlebar without causing the derailleur to shift. It amounts to yet another classic UCI overreach – regulating something that never ought to have been regulated, thereby creating even more animosity between UCI commissaires and teams and making the jobs of both more difficult.

So, at Tirreno-Adriatico, RadioShack mechanic Alan Buttler set up the RadioShack time trial bikes with the levers tipped up, but when he showed up at the technical check with one of them, the commissaire on hand rejected it.

“This is ‘horizontal’ (indicating level with his hand),” Buttler said, “and this is ‘in line’ when the lever parallels the bar,” which an upwardly pointed shifter does on a “ski bar” (aero bar with a single bend upward). “They didn’t know the difference.” The commissaire even said, “You cannot use the SRAM shifters,” according to Buttler. Buttler’s response was that there were eight teams in the race using SRAM shifters, and they — meaning the commissaires and the mechanics of those eight teams — would need to come up with a solution, because banning the shifters was not an option. A compromise was eventually reached.

At the Giro del Trentino, anticipating another battle with a new set of UCI commissaires, Buttler showed the commissaire at the time trial bike check the communiqué from Tirreno-Adriatico, his own UCI mechanic’s license, and definitions of “horizontal” that he had printed out from the Internet in a number of different languages. Nonetheless, the first response he received from the commissaire was that the team could not use the SRAM R2C shifters. Buttler also quoted the commissaire as having said that it didn’t matter what the paper said, that he, as a UCI commissaire, had the power to decide what was allowed and what wasn’t.

This was the SRAM R2C shifter compromise adopted by AG2R for the Giro: pointed up. Lennard Zinn photo

Buttler’s response was that the commissaire could not do that without revealing himself as corrupt, thereby favoring Shimano, which is a UCI sponsor. (As Campagnolo now has a similar shifter with a return-to-center feature on its new 11-speed time-trial shifter, this is an issue for Campy-sponsored teams as well.) Buttler said he also threatened to “ring up” UCI president Pat McQuaid. (“I have Pat’s number in my phone,” he told VeloNews at the Giro.) The UCI recently banned the Bont Crono shoe, but it would be an entirely different level of magnitude to ban SRAM and Campagnolo shifters on an issue that clearly is not a technical advantage to the riders.

The Giro del Trentino commissaires relented and agreed to seek a solution along with the mechanics from the other SRAM-sponsored teams. Some solutions reportedly requested by the commissaires and rejected by the mechanics consisted of angling the levers either so far up or so far down that they no longer functioned properly. Eventually, an agreement was once again reached on which way they should point, after much time and aggravation expended on the issue on all sides, all of which was entirely caused by a rule that was totally unnecessary in the first place.

In RadioShack’s case, it is sometimes only an issue on the right lever, since some riders prefer the standard 900 TT shifter on the left side so they can see at a glance which chainring they are in. And Buttler points out that he can’t just show up for an initial ruling with a bike that is for a small rider and on which the end of the shifter in the horizontal position does not exceed 80cm forward of the bottom bracket.

The pivot of the lever counts as the end of the aero extension if the lever does not return to center. Mike Reisel illustration

The UCI rules permit a “morphological exception” intended for tall riders extending the permitted extension of the aero bar forward of the bottom bracket from 75cm to 80cm and another morphological exception for small riders permitting the nose of the saddle to be straight over the bottom bracket, rather than 5cm behind it (see the drawing in the gallery below). “I can’t use both the positive and negative morphological exception on the same bike,” says Buttler.

Because of the location of the UCI technical checks near the start line of the Giro team time trial, it was a bit of a mission for teams to go and get their bikes checked. The team bus parking was down a narrow side street around a couple of tight turns from the start ramp at the palace and was hardly enough room for a car to pass between the buses and their awnings covering riders warming up on trainers. The road was further jammed with people, partially due to all of the Alpini (Italian army mountain soldiers) in Torino for their annual reunion. As Torino was the first capital of Italy and this is the 150th birthday of the Italian republic, there were even more than usual—reportedly a half million Alpini were in town. This side road intersected the course a couple hundred meters from the start, an area also jammed with Alpini. And then, the commissaires did not open the bike check until 1:30 p.m., when the start was at 3:50, leaving precious little time to make changes if the commissaires had required it.

Anticipating hassles, RadioShack team director Johan Bruyneel personally showed up at the Giro technical check with Yaroslav Popovych’s bike. Relative to the issues at prior races, this one was resolved fairly painlessly, with some teams having the levers pointed up, and some pointed down (RadioShack ended up with down). And we can all rest easier, knowing that the UCI saved us from having riders on SRAM and Campagnolo shifters getting an unfair advantage by having them pointed horizontally forward.