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Commentary: We debate the UCI’s ban on the ‘super tuck’

The UCI plans to phase out the controversial — if unquestionably popular — descending position. We debate the merits of the 'super tuck.'

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Cycling’s most controversial on-bike position is in the crosshairs.

As part of a series of new safety measures revealed Thursday, the UCI confirmed that it would be stamping down on riders easing into the so-called “super tuck.”

“The UCI Management Committee also decided to reinforce the regulation concerning potentially dangerous conduct of riders … including taking up dangerous positions on the bike (especially sitting on the top tube),” read the governing body’s statement.

So, should the awkward but highly efficient aero position that has now diffused through the pro peloton and into your local fondo and group ride be stamped out?

Andrew Hood and Jim Cotton consider the options.

Jim Cotton: Tuck your heart out – within reason

The “super-tuck” should stay – but within reason.

Bike racing is an inherently dangerous sport. Barreling through narrow streets cluttered with street furniture with scores of riders within elbow’s reach is arguably just as dangerous as is hurtling down a six-thousand-foot mountain pass perched on the top tube.

Riders are always going to take risks to cross the line first. To start restricting certain positions is opening a huge can of worms over what is and isn’t acceptable, and an outright ban sets a dangerous precedent.

What I applaud is that the UCI is looking to implement the new ruling as much to safeguard those around someone “super-tucking” as to protect the offending party themselves. It’s at a rider’s own risk if they decide to adopt the position, and at their judgment to decide if they have the skills and it’s safe to do so. And that’s I think the rule should reflect that.

Off the front in a solo breakaway and looking to fend off a charging peloton? Tuck away.

Descending in a bustling bunch on a sketchy surface? Apply common sense and stay in the saddle.

I can’t see a blanket ban being warmly-received, and risks steering racing toward simple W/Kg contests that may as well be performed in a lab. Instead, I think the jury needs to actively rule on when a “super-tuck” is and isn’t appropriate on a case-by-case basis, and come down hard on anyone endangering others.

A bunch sprint is dangerous. If a sprinter holds their line, they go unpunished. If they meander, the jury steps in because of the danger a wayward line poses to others in the vicinity.

It should be a similar model for the tuck otherwise racing will become stale and robotic. I mean, what’s next? Rules on sock length? Oh, wait.

The controversial tuck position is extremely popular in the bunch. Photo: Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Andrew Hood: Better safe than sorry

Personally, I am not opposed to the tucked position when practiced by the world’s best bike handlers on closed roads. The problem is, and it’s what I can imagine is behind this idea of the imminent ban, is that the “super-tuck” is not for everyone.

So in order to protect the few, the UCI is erring on the side of caution, and banning it for everyone.

There have been studies that the aero-position can be up to nine percent more efficient on a descent, meaning saved watts and faster speeds. That advantage is simply too tempting to avoid, and any pro would want that in the eternal quest for even the minimum of advantage.

And therein lies the rub.

Descending is a fine art, yet a highly dangerous one. I can imagine it’s not the expert bike-handlers that the UCI is worried about, instead it’s the middle-of-the-pack rider or new racer who might feel compelled to start using the technique when their skills simply don’t match their ability. Peer pressure can be a major force inside the pro peloton, and riders without those expert skills inevitably will be under the gun to try this in races when egged on by sport directors or rivals in the quest to keep up.

That there hasn’t been a major injury or worse by someone utilizing the “super-tuck” shouldn’t be an argument that it is inherently safe. Anyone who’s tried it will quickly realize the instability of the position in the wrong hands.

The UCI as a governing body has a responsibility for the safety of the entire peloton, and it’s being pro-active on this point by rolling out a ban before something terrible would happen.

And imagine the public uproar if the worst-case scenario did happen on live TV? One can see how the UCI is trying to thread the needle on this one, and taking the line that better safe than sorry is the right call.