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By Andrew Hood
Team sport directors are rallying their opposition to plans to ban race radio during two stages during the upcoming Tour de France.
Representatives from some of the top teams Monday criticized efforts by Tour officials to ban the use of earpieces and radio links between sport directors and racers during two stages at this year’s race, calling the measure “outdated and inappropriate.”
“If this measure is put into practice it could firstly jeopardize the safety of the cyclists, and secondly, it could compromise the directeur sportifs’ ability to effectively do their jobs in a dignified manner,” a statement read from ADISPRO International, a group representing top directors, released Monday.
The debate on race radios has been notching up over the past few years.
Riders and directors say the use of the radios – which were introduced in the mid-1990s and have become universal among the professional peloton – enhances rider safety and allows teams to react more quickly to changes in the race.
Detractors say the advent of the two-way radios has taken away the initiative from riders, stifled the spontaneity and even led to accusations that riders race like robots.
Last month, five-time Tour champion Bernhard Hinault joined the fray with typical aplomb.
“It is just a ‘Game Boy’ that has a gigolo attached at the end telling the racer when to take a piss,” Hinault said in an interview. “With (Cyril) Guimard, we studied the map and the wind the morning before the stage.”
Times have changed since Hinault’s heyday, but now Tour officials want to turn back the clock in a bid to inject a new element of surprise.
Tour officials have been quietly considering banning the race radios the past few years and surprised many when they made the decision to eliminate radios as well as televisions mounted inside sport directors’ cars during two stages in the upcoming Tour.
The first stage will be a rolling course from Limoges to Issoudun tailored for a sprint on July 14 (which also happens to be France’s Bastille Day). The second will be a more challenging course with five rated climbs across the Vosges three days later from Vittel to Colmar on July 17.
Johan Bruyneel, sport director at Astana, questioned the logic behind the decision.
“I absolutely disagree,” Bruyneel wrote on Twitter. “What’s the benefit of returning to the prehistory?”
Somewhat surprisingly, the professional riders association gave its tentative approval to the proposal, suggesting that the issue should be reconsidered once the Tour is over.
On Sunday, the French national championships were held without the use of race radio.
On Monday, the sport directors group said removing the race radio would create unsafe conditions during the stage.
“The roads are no longer the same as in years gone by. They often present a variety of dangers and the races are now even more crowded with cars and motorcycles. By banning the use of radio links, the cyclists would lose the only tool which with they can be promptly warned of impending dangers,” the statement read. “The directeur sportifs would be forced to perform frequent (and maybe even risky) maneuvers to reach the cyclists in the bunch in order to communicate with them.”