Pat McQuaid tells VeloNews: ‘No compromise on race radio’

UCI president Pat McQuaid is digging in his heels over the race radio issue and promises there will be no moving backward.

UCI president Pat McQuaid is digging in his heels over the race radio issue and promises there will be no moving backward.

Speaking to VeloNews on Friday by telephone from the UCI headquarters in Switzerland, McQuaid said there’s room to maneuver on questions of safety, but insisted that race radio will be banned in all professional races by next season.

“There’s room for compromise on safety issues, but at the bottom line (of a race radio ban), there is no compromise,” McQuaid told VeloNews. “We have had meetings to improve rider safety and we’ve talked to some communication companies about some possibly solutions, but the core question of the sport director talking directly to the riders is being phased out.”

The UCI’s decision to phase out two-way race radio in all professional races by 2012 has put the cycling’s governing body at loggerheads against many of the top professional teams. Most teams insist that radio communication is an essential tool in modern cycling, making it a safer and more professional sport.

On Thursday, the pro teams group (AIGCP) voted unanimously to not race at the UCI-backed Tour of Beijing set for October.

McQuaid strongly defended the phasing out of two-way radio communication and said that the sport will return to its exciting, more unpredictable roots without what he says is an undue influence of sport directors to control the pace and direction of races.

“Radios have brought a pattern to racing that makes them more boring. The fact is, these guys (sport directors) have completely brought it down to a boring contest,” he said. “If you ask Bjarne Riis who will win the Tour, he could probably tell you on the exact mountain in the exact stage when Alberto Contador will try to win the Tour. If you have 200 riders, who going to race for three weeks, over the Alps, the Pyrenees, across all of France, yet weeks before hand you can say when and where he’s going to win the Tour, then there’s something that’s gone wrong that’s not good for our sport. There should be more possible outcomes than just one formula.”

McQuaid also shot back at the argument by radio backers who suggest that bad luck on the road, such as an untimely puncture or mechanical, shouldn’t decide a winner, but rather it should be the strongest rider on the strongest team who should ultimately win the race.

“For 80 years this sport existed without radios, and you’re telling me that Merckx, Kelly and Coppi were the luckiest?” McQuaid said. “Luck has to play a part in cycling, it always has. If they want to take luck out of the sport, then all they’re doing is taking away some of the drama. Look at last year’s Tour, when Andy Schleck dropped his chain. That was an element of luck. There were race radios, but he had to manage it on his own. That’s what gives you drama. That’s what everyone was talking about. When you take out those elements, all you’re left with is a boring, predictable competition. It’s like PlayStation. That’s what these team directors have become.”

McQuaid said the UCI is willing to speak with teams and race organizers about finding a solution with radio communication that can be used as a safety tool. The idea has been floated that a one-way radio system could be introduced where UCI and race officials can communicate necessary information about race and road conditions to the riders.