Friday’s Foaming Rant: Don’t touch that dial

Race radio is not the problem, but rather the loose headset at UCI HQ, says foaming rantist Patrick O'Grady.

It is characteristic of mankind to make as little adjustment as possible in customary ways in the face of new conditions; the process of social change is epitomized in the fact that the first Packard car body delivered to the manufacturer had a whipstock on the dashboard.— Helen Merrell Lynd, “Middletown”

VeloNews Euro’-scribe Andrew Hood interviewed UCI president Pat McQuaid today via telephone.

Like you, I was astonished to learn that cycling’s Luddite-in-Chief had agreed to deliver his revelations via phone rather than by log drum, smoke signal or stone tablets borne down from Mont Ventoux. As we all know, electronic communications make for boring interviews, what with editors constantly telling their reporters which questions to ask.

I was not in electronic communication with Hoody at the time, but if I had been, I might have directed him to ask McQuaid, “Why are you being such a dick about race radios?”

These sunflowers all look like little yellow microphones, dont they? Must drive Pat McQuaid dotty.
These sunflowers all look like little yellow microphones, don't they? Must drive Pat McQuaid dotty.

Of course, we already know the answer, which is, “’Cause them’s the rules, and if you don’t like ’em, well, then you can’t play in Paddy McQuaid’s sandbox.” *

* Article 0.1.033. UCI WorldTour Sandbox to be constructed of four (4) 38mm x 235mm boards fastened together with 70mm galvanized decking screws and including two (2) pieces of pressure-treated plywood matching the outside dimensions of the sandbox, one (1) to be used as the base and the other to be used as a cover to prevent contamination by solids, liquids or other prohibited substances. Fill with dried and sanitized sand approved by the UCI technical committee (see Article 0.1.034).

UCI seems to delight in rule-making for its own sake, as anyone who’s ever glanced at the governing body’s voluminous collection of diktats or taken a hacksaw to a rider’s geek-bars at a start line will concur. This paean to relentless micromanagement seems designed to drive the reader stone mad and/or to drink.

My personal fave is found in “Technical Regulations for Bicycles: A Practical Guide to Implementation.”:

“The bicycle is a vehicle with two wheels of equal diameter: the front wheel shall be steerable; the rear wheel shall be driven.”

Thank God we got that vexing question cleared up. If McQuaid finds it wearisome to watch the actual racing of these two-wheeled, steerable and driven vehicles, he should try reading his own rulebook one of these days. It makes following a flat 260km stage feel like a night at the Bunny Ranch with Charlie Sheen.

And “watching” may be the real issue here, because it’s not so much that McQuaid finds radio-controlled racing too tedious for his taste, but rather that television does.

In an open letter to pro riders today, McQuaid notes: “The support of the media —particularly television — for this readjustment is a demonstration of the necessity to intervene on this point: the course of too many races is now a foregone conclusion, and this limits enormously the large-scale visibility of cycling.”

McQuaid says France Television execs told him in 2008 “that if radios were retained in cycling and used as they were being used that the coverage of cycling on television would be reduced.”

German TV has already croaked its cycling coverage in disgust with the endless parade of drug scandals, but McQuaid contends that this is less of an issue than one might think: “Doping was an element certainly but so were other issues. If the product was so interesting that people clamoured for it ARD and ZDF would not have killed the coverage.”

Yeah, I’ve noticed the Euro’ networks dropping soccer like a hot rock because some of its “products” tend to drag a bit.

Besides, does anyone besides France TV and McQuaid think it’s a good idea to downsize road racing to suit the needs of television, as happened with mountain-bike racing? Anyone remember mountain-bike racing? Yeah, me neither.

If it’s excitement we’re after, let’s not level the playing field — let’s shake it up, flip a few kinks into it, tip it this way and that.

Ban race radios? Pshaw. Sissy talk. Ban the whole damn’ caravan except for camera motos. Make the riders carry their own spares and tools so they can fix flats, adjust derailleurs and make other minor repairs as necessary. We’ve all seen the mechanic working out of the Skoda window a few too many times, and he hardly ever drops anyone. Watching skinny Andy Schleck trying to muscle a fresh tubie onto a wheel as Alberto Contador skips up the hill will make for some must-see TV.

Next, feed zones. Away with ’em. Occasionally some doofus fumbles the hand-up and goes over the bars, but otherwise, bor-ing. Let’s see some free-range foraging in which riders start with whatever food and water they can carry and then hit the shops and cafés for additional calories en route.

Think reality TV. Follow Mark Cavendish with a handheld camera as he clatters desperately through a Carrefour City looking for fig bars, gels or a banana, then screams at a sluggish checkout clerk: “The race is going up the bloody road!” Finally paid up and pockets filled, he dashes outside — to find his bike stolen and no teammates in sight.

While we’re on the topic of blood, let’s do away with the race doctor, too. Do you have a trained medical professional following you around on the job? If so, you’re probably a doctor yourself. The rest of us mostly do without, and so can the peloton. Bike racing is no more dangerous than driving a Vegas taxi, working the night shift at a convenience store or prostitution.

Also, no stage of any Tour de France should include a sector in which Graham Watson can shoot the peloton rolling placidly through a field of sunflowers. Seriously. Cut that out. If I want to see flowers, I’ll visit a graveyard.

And finally, speaking of graveyards, perhaps it’s time we buried the UCI and its rulebook. Because it’s not race radio that’s the problem with pro cycling — it’s the loose headset at UCI headquarters.