Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The 2009 Tour de France, just like old times (part 2)

Forward into the 1920's with the UCI.

Do you know Graeme Obree ? He was world pursuit champion, held the hour record a couple of times and wrote one of the best books about cycling ever.

Graeme was, indeed still is, famous for 'pushing the envelope' of bike design. He constructed bikes that set world records, on his own, in his garage.
Now back 'in the day' the UCI didn't like this, oh no, building bike frames like Graeme's was somehow against the 'spirit of cycling'. 'The spirit of cycling' was the phrase that the tossers in Switzerland used to defend their banning of Graeme's bikes. The only drawback here is that at no point did they actually specify what this spirit was. No actual definition of this spirit was ever offered and although it was trotted out it seemed to vary from jobsworth to jobsworth.

I can only assume that the spirit they used to hamper and frustrate Graeme at every turn was also the same spirit that allowed the UCI's Hein Verbruggen to go on holiday (to India I recall) as soon as the Festina affair broke. Making your own bike is somehow against the spirit of cycling, whilst systematic doping isn't, or so it would seem.

The irony is that whilst Graeme was and remains a clean rider he was countered at every turn whilst the opening of the Vaseline and the bending over backwards for doping scum was a regular event at UCI HQ.

So what's new I hear you ask, well come on at the back! WHAT'S NEW I HEAR YOU ASK?

Well yesterday whilst we were all waiting for the UCI to produce doped up rabbits from their magic hat they slipped a change to the tech regulations in under the radar.

Basically and to spare you the life sapping task of reading them (good luck if you find them on the UCI's web site - they are well hidden) the upshot is that all bikes used in UCI sanctioned competition, that's everything from World Champs to the Journalists Rainbow Jersey stakes, must be available to the average punter over the counter and that no prototyes can be used in competition.

So that pretty much takes out a fair chunk of what's ridden in the pro peloton, as these often include bikes and components in development for next year or the year after.

Now it has been suggested that this is the UCI's attempt to bugger up the GB track squad and their McLaren F1 designed UKIS bikes, (But more if this later), first...

Well first, how do you test a bike then? Lets say you are Cervelo (you wish right?) and you want to test a new frame or component or a new whatever, you have a team of riders that will put that frame through the toughest test imaginable ie. a professional bike race. Except that now they can't, so why bother designing new bikes? Where do you do you testing? Does the R & D process take four times as long as it will take you longer to collate the test data?

Where does that leave commercial bike development? When Reynolds 753 tubing came out (Whoooo, showing my age there, or not as the case may be.....) were the first bike to have it used in the Pro Peloton or available at Bobs bikes? I dunno for sure, but I suspect the former.

How do companies that have invested millions in R & D progress now? Make a new frame, look at it, stick some wheels on it, ride it to the shops and then go into production on the basis that they carried back a pint of mile and a carrot with no obvious difficulties?

On Track?

So then, this track bike thing? There was, apparently, whinging from National Federations who complained that GB got too much money and put too much into developing fast bikes and the like. A bit like someone saying to Columbia 'No you can't pay the wages of both Cavendish and Bosen-Hagen' or telling Astana that they have to off load a Grande Tour contender as they have too many (although I think that someone may have already had a word with their sponsor....). Sponsors, Governments put money into sport, what are you going to do? Hand some back saying, 'Thanks, but it's a bit too much, if I spend all this it won't be fair'

Lets say, lets just say, the French suddenly got a case full of Euros and starting making invisible bikes that went very fast I don't think that British Cycling would go running to Uncle Pat wringing their hands and crying foul, I really don't.

And if the complaint is that BC are chucking cash at bike frames what next? Seriously, what next? Not just for BC but for any team or nation? BC have the money to employ a full time mind mechanic in the shape of Steve Peters and some other nations don't, so maybe Steve should be restricted to shouting 'jolly good show old chap' from the stands at future international events then?
Are we to see an F1style farce where teams are only allowed to spend a certain amount of money each year? Because lets face it, if's it's a farce you want then cycling is the right place to find one.

Now whilst I'm a little hot under the old collar here (sorry, no seriously I am, you probable have better things to do....), lets just assume for one minute that you stuck Chris Hoy on a bog standard track bike.... what do you think is gonna happen, is he suddenly going to start coming across the line 50 meters behind some bloke no one's ever heard of? I seriously doubt it, I really do.

Actually I've got nothing against a level playing field for bike racing. What I do have something against is the traditional UCI cock-up that unfolds before me here. Sure stick all the GB track team on a steel tube clunker made in Taiwan, stick all the track teams on steel clunkers, I honestly have no problem with that at all, it is after all 'not about the bike' it is and should remain about the athlete and their individual or team effort, about their training, their endeavor, their guts and determination.

Surely the response to one team going well is re-evaluate your preparation and planning, find out where you can improve and then work hard at making that improvement.

So then this UCI that you speak of?

And their new regulations then, well vague and confusing is one way of describing them, still never mind, why bother chasing dopers and trying to rid the sport of drug cheating cheats when you can waste time and resources telling Cervelo & GB that Big Thor and Sir Chris can't have new bikes next year...

'Spirit of cycling' My arse......

The 2009 Tour de France, are you going to be there?

So how many riders will be banned from starting the 2009 Tour de France?
Boonan, Valverde? I expect so, any more? God alone knows. Although it's a pretty sure thing that should anyone be caught with their hand in the medicine cabinet the UCI will piss about and scratch their heads and go off and talk to the lawyers and then sit in a darkened room and hope it goes away. Meanwhile the worlds media will 'lick their lips' (copyright Hugh Porter) and be reporting what the world already knows that as a sport we have the needle well and truly up our collective arses.

As the UCI's lack of any action continues the TdF draws closer and judging on past form we can expect an announcement days before the Tour starts ensuring that there is maximum exposure for doping scum and maximum embarrassment for the sport as a whole and for those sponsors that God bless em, are still riding with us.

Please don't re-read the above and think that I am advocating some kind to code of silence bollocks, I'm not. What amazes me is that the UCI seem to have an uncanny knack of sitting on their hands until the week before the Tour before taking any action. How is it that 51 weeks of inaction seem to be followed by one week of crazy activity at the end of June?

I'm all for naming and shaming, in fact I'm all for naming and dragging through the streets behind a chariot pulled by two horses with diarrhea. But this sort of high quality spectator activity should be available to us all 52 weeks a year not just the week before the tour starts.


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