Defining Moments: Radio Silence

Defining Moments: Radio Silence

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Robots. Automatons. Modern professional cyclists. I am tempted to say these three terms are interchangeable, but I know that’s not right because a “robot” endeavors to convey the impression that it acts of it’s own intent, whereas automatons and professional cyclists are merely self-operating machines.

It is difficult for a Velominatus to look at old cycling photos and not have their minds wander to days gone by when racing was inspiring, unpredictable and, above all, courageous.  Take this photo: it looks like Hinault has just attacked so hard that Joop Zoetemelk’s eyebrows got dropped.  The Guns of Navarrone have been fired and it is clear from the look in his eyes that Hinault reckons he’s got two options: continue the attack until he’s worn the tape off his bars and dropped the two Dutchman clinging to his draft, or die.  Obviously he favors the first option.

This year’s World Road Race Championships distinguished itself from the other races this season in two principle ways. First, it put on display some of the most courageous and exciting racing I’ve seen in ages. Second, it was held without the use of race radios.  I’m not the first one to say it, but in my estimation, the lack of radios directly fed into the quality of the racing that saw the riders demonstrate that they can still show initiative, patience, cleverness, and loads of Rule #5 without having instructions yelled in their ear.

The argument for allowing race radios generally revolves around safety concerns for the riders, citing improved communication about road conditions, crashes, and any other hazards one might encounter during a bike race. The argument against radios mostly centers on the fact that they help make races less exciting by taking the tactical decisions away from the riders and placing them in the hands of the Directeurs Spotif who instruct their riders based on loads of realtime data available from inside the team car. Like most things, this matter is probably a much more complicated one than it appears on the surface, but I intend to ignore all the “facts” or “reasons” why this might be the case and instead focus on the points that are easy to think of and support my viewpoint.

The finale of the Elite Men’s Road Race was sparked by Phillipe Gilbert big-ringing it up the last climb. Sure, you can do that with a radio, but if you did you can bet your DS would be peppering you with statistics that show a correlation between riding in a big gear and knee injuries.  I don’t need to tell you that kind of information can be very distracting when you’re racing.

Behind, the chase was led by an impressive Cadelephant who showed no consideration whatsoever for riding a “smart race” and instead grabbed the race by the short hairs and gave it the berries.  No one telling them to look around for help, no one telling them the bunch was bearing down from behind.  Just execution of one of the most simple principles in cycling: to go faster, you push harder on the pedals. The rest of the guys in the move did what they could to hold the wheel in front of them and contribute to the pace when possible.  No games, no passengers, just full gas until the bunch plucked them up like a falcon does a field mouse.

There were no robots to be seen, and I have a feeling it might have been a refreshing change for the riders, too.  It didn’t revolutionize the race – all the big names still made the big moves and the bunch still caught the break, – but the racing showed something we haven’t seen in quite a while: courage, guts, and glory.

// Accessories and Gear // Defining Moments // Nostalgia // Technology // The Rules

  1. Great article. I am in full favour of no radios. With modern safety standards most risks can be
    amelirorated

  2. I really can’t get over the show Cadel put on. He really did honor to the jersey by riding with the sheer tenacity and ferociousness of a rabid dog.

    I found myself rooting for him with every attack he made and gap he closed.

  3. Agreed Omar. Great stuff. Roll on di lombardi

  4. Funny how the commentators missed Gilbert getting passed at the 5:30 mark.

  5. If it’s for safety, the riders can all tune into the same channel and have receivers only.

  6. Once again another great article and I have to agree with you. The road race was certainly the most exciting I’ve watched for a while and I think the lack of race radios certainly contributed to this. Are they planning to roll the ban out to the rest of the pro tour or are they still only being selective to which races they impose the ban?

    Have to say as happy as I was to see the Viking take it out I was screaming at the tv and just willing cadelephant on to do the double. Could anyone possibly have Rule #5’d it anymore! Have to say my opinion of cadelephant has changed dramatically over this past year – respect!

  7. Shit commentating. Gilbert was taken back at 5.30; the commentary team didn’t notice this for about three minutes.

  8. The other guy suffering on Hinault’s wheel isn’t a Dutchman, it’s the late Joaquim Agostinho from Portugal.

  9. @Frank – great piece, Frank. I’ve said this before, but I think the corporate-ization of sports in general as well as the stunning increase in professional sports salaries have ruined or at lest decreased the glory of any number of sports, producing more automatons… this, also includes, as a side effect, sports training and sports psychology improvements, as well as this article details, technology improvements.

    Things are essentially, more “scientifically approached” and money is a huge factor. Someone like Huevos epitomizes this – brutal efficiency at the cost of the “spirit” of the sport.

    I see this same automatization in other sports too, baseball (pitchers can now only throw “so many pitches” each game because of the wonders of science – something that thankfully, Nolan Ryan is working against; Tiger Woods, in golf – essentially Lance Armstrong – and given some of the doctors he’s worked with and huge muscle mass gain over 15 years, maybe he’s doping too! There are no “urine police” on the golf course).

    There were a lot more individuals, “characters” in sports when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, as I remember it…when people just got on the bike, drank wine or beer after a race if they felt like it (poor Andy Schleck), and pretty much just hammered at it.

  10. Shit can the radios – afterall is the racers themselves actually racing, not the directeur sportif’s. It seems to me the guys in the team cars are the ones who are most in need of a little #5.

  11. P.S. – great photo of The Badger – damn he’s got guns!

  12. @Oli Brooke-White
    In what kind of time-warp did my brain think Hinault was racing that made me think that was Theunisse? That’s really funny and I like to believe that’s uncharacteristic of me. Yikes.

  13. A “Chink in the Armour” eh, Frank?

  14. @Nof Landrien

    Bloody BBC!

    I laughed at this, especially as the commentators are Hugh Porter and Chris Boardman.

  15. @Unica
    I was watching a Flemish broadcast and they missed it, too. They were too busy praying Giblet would stay clear that they completely ignored it as well. You can understand that.

    I have to say that Liggett and Sherwin (especially Sherwin) are pretty rad commentators. Those Belgian guys were far from entertaining.

  16. @Velomihottie, @KitCarson
    I have to say that more than anything, I’m just really impressed and relieved to see the riders race with some grinta; they proved to me they can still do it on their own. I think the voice in their head just causes more doubts than anything else.

  17. @Omar
    I’ve never liked Cuddles and always felt he epitomized radio-racing; always looking around for others to work and complaining about his options when he’s outnumbered. His racing this season, but in particular in the last two World’s sure did a great job proving he is a class act. Really turning the page on that guy.

  18. @michael

    If it’s for safety, the riders can all tune into the same channel and have receivers only.

    It think it’s a bullshit claim anyway. The radio will do nothing to assist in a crash and outside of that, there should be plenty of time to alert riders of road hazards, and other course info – and the officials should be much better informed than the DS’s anyways.

  19. @KitCarson

    P.S. – great photo of The Badger – damn he’s got guns!

    I’ve got major gun-envy. Those things are cannons.

  20. @Rusty Tool Shed

    It seems to me the guys in the team cars are the ones who are most in need of a little #5.

    Very well said. Absolutely agree. I really think the race showed the riders with the best ability to think for themselves. As much as I hate to say it, it makes me wonder about Faboo.

  21. As much as I hate to say it, it makes me wonder about Faboo.

    That’s what I was talking about. And to top that off he goes off the back at the beginning of the final lap.

  22. Great article and I agree that no radios makes for better racing, especially from a fans perspective. I like the fact that if you’re going to be World Champion then you have to do it on your own without needing a disembodied voice telling you when to step on the gas.

    I’m generally a fan of Spartacus and like watching him ride, but it goes out the window when he starts whining about radios.

  23. Great piece Frank. My sentiments exactly. The racing was like none I’ve seen for quite a while, every rider was balls out (especially Elephant) giving it the full V, just like it’s meant to be.

    The UCI now needs to show the same balls as the riders and ban radios altogether; then we will see the same sort of racing as Sunday, where we’re shouting at the tv like we were on the side of the road.

  24. Frank, great article…. and my heart agrees with you… but, even though I fear these views will be unpopular (and I haven’t got quite the drive and passion and pigheadedness of Adrian), I fear that we are harking back to the good old days where everything is in black and white. The cat is out the bag, the train has left the station, pandora’s box is open (poor girl). It’s hard enough for teams/riders not to cheat with the whole doping thing… the technology for radios has been around since WW II (I?), they can be disguised in SRM power meters, heart rate monitors, ipods… it is just another grey area for teams to exploit… like Formula 1 banning ABS or traction control… Benetton and Schumacher still (allegedly) found a way around it… or we are left looking like the shambles that is football that categorically refuses to use goal-line technology… it’s just village. I cry inside when I see the photo up top, I love your words in the article, and I really, really enjoyed these worlds – BECAUSE they didn’t have radios – but you make this systemic, and the teams will start to game it…. my heart rate monitor ‘sticks’ at 160 (break is 2mins ahead); my power meter pulses (briefly) at 1200W (yellow jersey’s legs have blown and his guns are out of ammo)… it will become a secret, dirty war. God, I hope I’m wrong. But we can’t turn back the clock. the technology exists. It’s why in 5 years time, people will laugh at us for our manual gear shifts, etc. etc. etc. And it’s why we love black and white photos… there were only three things that mattered: how deep our heroes were prepared to dig, how deep their nemeses were prepared to dig, and the rich tapestry that the combination of course, terrain, weather etc. could weave around them.

  25. Fine Worlds and a great article, Frank! Nice going.

    I love the last 5 km and haven’t seen it since the early hours of Saturday morning. Time for a work break and time to watch it again.

    I love racing without radios. I am against too much tech at all levels, even club races. Jeez, after our Thursday rides no one is cracking beers or having a good time – they all are too busy blathering about their HR readings and what their Power Meter is telling them. Eck! Makes me hope back on my bike and head off. I like passionate cyclists, not damn nerdy number crunchers on bikes!

    Down with radios! Up with the replay I’m about to watch. Only heard it in French on Saturday so this is going to be great from the BBC (I understand English much better:))!

  26. And yes, some structuring, punctuation and paragraph breaks would probably be a good idea.

  27. Wow, I’d had a few beers by the end of the race and watching it again I realize how damn awesome the last 5k were!

    – Evans and Martins chase is great. They are flying! Evans accelerating at 4:09 mark after all the miles is stunning.

    – Anyone know what saddle Gilbert was riding? Looked almost like an older 1990s era Flite.

    – It is pretty incredible how hard even the pros need to work to bring back a breakaway (I mean when it is a small group chasing one or two up the road).

  28. Seems Gilbert was caught and passed by Gusev right before the big right hander before the Esplanade. It’s about 5:37 into the video. I think that was him, what other Belgian could it have been? Cool paint scheme on the Belgian bikes as well.

    Weird camera lag too on the sprint. We see Thor starting his sprint but still a couple lengths behind then they switch to another camera and he’s in the lead all of a sudden heading for the line.

  29. Good writing Frank. Agreed. Blackboards and flags only. Bring back instinctive racing.

  30. Whilst I like the idea of no radios, I am not sure that radios would have made a huge difference to that day’s racing?

    1. What was left of the field caught the attackers very late to make for a bunch sprint. As I understand it, this exact circumstance is the key criticism of radios?

    2. Radios wouldn’t have helped The Douche and his buddies from getting spat.

    3. Maybe radios might have gotten the late escapees to work a bit better and stay away?

    4. Still reckon that Gilbert’s attack would have been more than encouraged by a DS – it was his only option.

    5. The only thing that radios might have done was stay a little closer to the initial break so the whole field wasn’t so close to getting removed, ie. if the early break had completed their first lap before the bunch arrived. This was avoided by only a couple of minutes.

  31. @Marcus
    1. It was hardly the “whole field”, much like Milan San-Remo isn’t a sprinters race as only 20/30 riders tend to get to the finish together.

    2. Nice dig. Neither would it have stopped Cancellara or Voigt being dropped

    3. If the escapees didn’t want to work then radios wouldn’t have made any difference

    4 Gilbert more than likely would have been advised to wait until the last hill. Whether he would have listened is another matter. Besides, it might have been that attacking earlier prevented one of his team-mates attacking before him.

    However, I think it was a decent experiment and should be continued in other one-day races. The only real downside was seeing Hoste attacking while Van Avermaet punctured. Wouldn’t have happened with radio,s

    I would think that everything would have stayed together with radios and would have had 50/60 it it at the end.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the women’s race

  32. @Jarvis
    Suggest you re-read my comment. I used the phrase “what was left of the field” to describe the final sprint and used the “whole field” when describing their initial entry onto the circuit – where they were indeed only a few minutes away from elimination. Sheesh!

  33. @frank
    I don’t miss Liggett and Sherwin at all. I was watching Eurosport and they almost missed it – I think nearly everyone did!

    I just wish there was a way of being able to take the pictures from one source and the commentary from another with cycling like I do for cricket – TMS is simply the best for that. But that would depend on having good commentary available, so I refer back to my first sentence.

    And I’m aloud to take the piss out of the BBC, but couldn’t possibly say why…

  34. @Marcus
    I agree with what you say in terms of the results – which is also a really refreshing fact: the best riders are capable of reading and animating a race with or without radios. But what we DID see was much more aggressive and courageous riding that we’re normally treated to. And that’s what is what I’m really anxious to get out of a ban on radios.

    In fact, the last paragraph of the article reads,

    It didn’t revolutionize the race – all the big names still made the big moves and the bunch still caught the break, – but the racing showed something we haven’t seen in quite a while: courage, guts, and glory.

    The glaring omission from the “riders who did well without radios” group – as has been said here before as well by the community – is our dreamy-eyed here, Fabian. I’m jumping wildly to conclusions, but for a guy who’s record this season depended greatly on information being sent to him over the radio, it’s quite a coincidence that he would factor out of the race without the radios.

  35. @frank
    Think cance also struggled because we work off a different AC voltage system down here – so the motor couldn’t get re-charged after the TT.

  36. @Marcus
    Olé!

    Keep in mind that these national teams typically lack the cohesion of the Pro Tour teams if only because these guys aren’t used to riding with their compatriots and national team coaches. I can’t imagine you’d see the kind of peloton cooperation that gave rise to the protest over the TdF radio ban protest last year or even the Stage 2 fiasco from this year. I can’t see the TdF revisiting the radio ban in spite of a very cool Worlds that demonstrated that you can and do get good racing without them.

    @frank
    Could be making a bit too big a jump here. Remember that least year, the course suited him a bit more and he was riding on home turf. For a guy who is fiercely (and charismatically) proud, that was added incentive. At the same time, it’s a plausible argument that he’s all brawn and the perfect amount of dumb. Of course, he also did just win the TT for a pretty incredible fourth straight time (and that TT rainbow he wore this year is several pints of awesome), and you have to figure that with more competition coming up the ranks he probably put everything on the line there and couldn’t quite make the recovery. In all, then, I dunno. I find it more compelling than Motorcus, but I just don’t know.

  37. RE Phil’s saddle:
    original Flite with extra padding. Evans is riding the same. Shame it is Pro only issue.

    @Ron

  38. Another interesting perspective (two, actually) on the question of radios and the relationship between riders and directeurs, here.

  39. @Steampunk

    That’s a sweet story. I forget how much I like reading MB’s stuff.

  40. @Frank

    Great piece and lovin’ the phrase Gun-Envy ; I have that too.

  41. KitCarson :P.S. – great photo of The Badger – damn he’s got guns!

    Oh, yes!

  42. @Mr Haven
    Define “amelirorated.”

  43. Resurrecting this thread like a zombie – interesting article in Velonews regarding potential rice protests over the upcoming radio ban.

    Me, I’m still all for it. I think it’ll create more exciting cycling at the end of the day.

  44. Rice protests? Jesus. RACE protests.

  45. @mcsqueak
    I was bummed to see Jens Voigt being a lead protester on this issue. But, he’s still an absolute BADASS HARDMAN SUPREME!

  46. @Buck Rogers
    He’s been vocal about it a long time. But he’s always funny about it, so that’s something.

    I agree race radios should be banned, but I am so fucking tired of the UCI. Those guys are in a standoff with either the race organizers or the riders year after year. I can’t imagine what an infectious environment that must be. The policies are not always wrong, but they really need to revisit their management style.

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