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By Matt Pacocha
The tires are glued and bikes are prepped, but at 5 p.m. on the eve of the 2007 Tour de France. Many teams still have plenty to do. Earlier in the day, teams were scrambling because of an 11th-hour “clarification” of an equipment regulation that effected time-trial position.
The problem is a poorly written rule that governs hand position when using the aero’ extensions on time-trial bikes. As the rule stood, at Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, teams were left to interpret what was within the boundaries for positioning when using the aero‘ position that Floyd Landis pioneered last year. At both races some riders were allowed to use the position and others were not. It seemed what was – or was not – allowed came down to how the riders achieved the position. If riders had more than two points of contact, meaning if their wrists touched the bar extensions in addition to their hands and forearms, then the position was not allowed; but if only the hands and forearms touched then it was acceptable.
In London, UCI officials reassessed the original rule and clarified it. After photos and emails were exchanged between the officials on the ground in London and Jean Wauthier the UCI official in charge of equipment regulations. It was decided that both the aero extensions and the riders’ forearms must remain parallel to the ground, so no matter what shape extension is used, riders are prohibited from using an upright time-trial bar position. As can be expected this sent teams scrambling.
We obtained a copy of an e-mail from Wauthier that was sent to one of the teams after the Dauphiné Libéré in response to its query’s of the legality of its riders’ positions. The email included a PDF of a schematic that gave the legal boundaries for positioning.
Remarks concerning the technical rules of the UCI –Two points of the technical rules were specified but without modifying the regulations which exist since the year 2000. It deals with both the following articles:- Article 1.3.002 refers to the quality standards for the race bicycles, what means that the equipment, which is used was subjected to a series of resistance and safety tests. The norm suggests that the standardized and identified equipment cannot be modified later on. The actions which consist of, among other things and for example, sawing the peaks of the saddles or filing the safety catches out of the forks are irresponsible acts in terms of safety. By referring to the standards, the UCI wishes to put all the people interested in front of their responsibilities.- Article 1.3.023 is not modified. The diagram, which illustrates article 1.3.023, is very clear. The article says that an extension may be added (the diagram – structure 1b – shows that the extension is in the horizontal plane) and that a support for the elbows or forearms is permitted.When the extension is raised, the elbows (or forearms) become points of support, which is never permitted and which is justified by safety ergonomic considerations.On the other hand, the hand position (the point of support, not to be confused with the extension itself – see diagram – structure 1b -) can be flat (on the extension), raised or even straight depending on the technique used provided that it remains under the horizontal line B in the diagram structure 1b.To illustrate this explanation, we enclose a picture of a time trial bicycle, which complies with the regulation: the extension is in the horizontal plane; if the extensions were raised, the elbows (or forearms) would give the rider an extra point of support, which is not permitted. On the other hand, the position of the handles (for hand position) is free.If you have any question or doubt about those points, don’t hesitate to ask me and I will try to help you.Thank you.
UCI Technical Adviser
Despite this explanation from the UCI the rule remains unclear. Team CSC was one of the teams hardest hit as many of its riders were trying out the new upright position. Not wanting to take unnecessary risks all of its riders have changed back to a traditional position. Christian Vande Velde was made to change his position on the start line at Dauphiné.
“They made me change on the line; that was nice,” said Vande Velde. “It’s been a joke. They said because I could, maybe, touch my arm here [at the wrist], which I would never do, that it was illegal. Levi [Leipheimer] was doing his [equipment check] the same time and his was okay but mine wasn’t. [Apparently] it’s because he has a different kind of bars but he has the same hand placement as mine.”
Besides the last minute position change, many of the riders were up in arms because they had specifically changed to a bullhorn bar and clip-on extensions to use the new position. But had they known the upright position was illegal they would have never changed from one-piece aero bars.
“The other bar was much better,” said Vande Velde. “It’s stiffer, lighter and more aerodynamic. This set-up is what you would buy at a bike shop.”
The UCI made Vande Velde’s teammate Fabian Cancellara switch from the upright position as well — right before the start of a stage race.
“[They made me change] half an hour before the start of Tour de Suisse,” he said. “It was the whole position that I trained and raced on until that day. It was on time-trial of the last day that they say, ‘no. It’s like for a football player to change from a round ball to a square one.’”
Salvatore Miceli, FSA’s Italian marketing manager, explained that from what he has witnessed the rule change depending on the UCI official at the race. And the interpretation is very important to FSA because it could keep its new Semi-Integrated TT bar from competition.
“Before the rule was that the extensions could not be higher than the top of the saddle,” said Miceli. “This is what I understood, but it seems at the stage races, it depends on the judge attending to the race.”
Even though Discovery Channel’s Levi Leipheimer got by at with his upright time-trial position at the Dauphiné, the team wasn’t taking any chances at the Tour. Team mechanics had already gone so far as to have a special set of custom extensions built and sent to London by Steve Hed, but at 4:45 pm Friday afternoon they decided not to risk using them.
Discovery director Johann Bruyneel said the rule appears to have been developed – and applied – rather arbitrarily.
“The new rules for the time trial do not seem to have been developed with much thought. Levi’s position is not dangerous or a major deviation from the ‘usual’ position used by many riders,” Bruyneel observed. “It only draws attention because he is smaller and more compact than most, but the position is not drastic. There has been no clear explanation as to why he cannot use this position and this is what bothers me the most. He spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel finding a position that is fast and safe, and now he has to change. Rules like this are being made by people who do not understand the correct application. These type of decisions limit the advancement of the sport.”
Ben Coats, Trek’s liaison to the Discovery team, said that the UCI officials on the ground in London said that Leipheimer’s position was probably okay, but if he used it and any other teams called or sent a complaint to the commission, it would be evaluated and he could be disqualified.
“If you don’t know what the rule is, and you’re saying: ‘Yes, this is good,’ but then we can be punished later, that’s just not right,” said Coats. “It’s really too bad. Chris [Van Roosbroeck, Discovery’s head mechanic] had taken that [Leipheimer’s] bike to the commissars at the Dauphiné and asked if it was okay and they said yes.”
It will be interesting to see if all of the teams starting tomorrow were able to make the changes necessary to comply with this new version of the rule. It goes without saying that there will be quite a show if someone is disqualified on the first day because of an infraction of this rule.