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Picture cycling as a scale. On one side sit multi-national corporations, race organizations full of lawyers and revenue projections and daily budgets. On the other, 180 or so loosely organized but mostly factionalized men in twenty different colors of lycra, tasked with putting on a show.
It’s not difficult to imagine which side is heftier. Or which side wins most disputes.
Michele Acquarone, former head of the Giro d’Italia race organization, RCS Sport, believes the scale should be tipped in the riders’ favor.
“Today race organizers have too much power. It must be regulated, at least in [WorldTour] races,” he told VeloNews.
Acquarone, who is currently fighting his dismissal from RCS in an Italian employment tribunal, and denies he perpetrated the fraud RCS accuses him of, has been on the commercial side of the scale for most of his career. But now he’s siding with the riders — he helped develop the extreme weather protocol recently handed to the UCI by the new Association of North American Professional Road Cyclists (ANAPRC).
On Saturday, riders took a rare victory against the weight of race organizers, including Eddy Merckx and ASO, the company behind the Tour de France. They put their cleated feet down in the shade of an Omani highway overpass, demanding an end to the day’s racing. The 100-degree heat, combined with a long descent, had melted tubular glue, blowing tires off rims. Continuing to ride was dangerous, riders said.
Eddy Merckx, organizer of the Tour of Oman, argued with Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) under the overpass, but ultimately conceded. The race was off.
Merckx scoffed. “Riders’ security? Well what about Paris-Roubaix when it rains? That’s dangerous as well,” he said. “Or when it rains in the Pyrenees at the Tour de France?”
To Acquarone, that’s missing the point. That racing is dangerous is a given, but limits must be set, according to the former race organizer.
“Unfortunately, life is unpredictable, but we must always do all that is possible to secure the athletes. Using all the help that technology can provide (mandatory helmet, radio communication, safer bicycles and more protective clothes). Drawing safer courses. Defining clear rules in case of adverse weather conditions,” he said.
Acquarone is in favor of a three-person “weather commission,” a recommendation also put forward by the ANAPRC. The commission would meet every day before the start, and could include one representative each from the jury, the organizer, and the riders.
Setting clear rules, and establishing such a commission, would help the organizers in the end, Acquarone said. Ambiguity is not good for business.
“Organizers get revenues from sponsorship and media rights, they get revenues from institutions and revenues from spectators — merchandising, food and beverage. Any cancellation or change to the original plan is a big deal. It opens the door to disputes and threatens parts of the revenues. But if we clearly define safety rules about weather it will become easier to write contracts and communicate with insurance companies.”
“I’m sure it is essential to minimize the uncertainty,” he said. “Pro cycling must have clear rules and control bodies to respect them.”
Acquarone swats down the notion that riders are simply softer than they used to be, and that they should ride in whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
“I do not accept that somebody says that compared to the past, today riders are softer. If there is a category of athletes [that is] really tough and prone to the risk, it is the cyclists,” he said.
“I saw them fall and bloody get up. I saw Cav pass the finish-line with torn clothes carrying his bike on his shoulders. I saw [Taylor] Phinney getting on the podium straight from the ambulance. I saw them riding in the rain, in the snow, in the wind and in the blazing sun. Riders would always ride, they are not afraid of anything. They are everything but soft.”