A Note from Fatty: This is the third in the occasional “The Fat Cyclist Explains” series, which goes to show it really is a series, albeit a sporadic one. You can read the first installment here, and the second one here. Finally, you can read the third one here, but you’re already here, so what’s the point of clicking this link? I don’t think there is one, to be honest.
A couple of days ago, I remembered, briefly, that I have an email address and that many people actually read email that comes to them. For the novelty of it, I opened my email (note to the 14,000 people who have sent me as-yet-unread messages: I’ll get back to you soon!). To my delight, I found I had just sent myself the following email:
I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines in the cycling press about a controversy surrounding the banning of race radios. I don’t want to read the articles myself, so I was hoping you could explain — in the objective, clear and thorough manner for which you are known — what this this ban means, who’s for it, who’s against it, why it matters, and what it means to the future of the sport.
Thanks very much for your very informative, entertaining, and award-winning blog,
Thanks for your note, pretend person whom I choose to call “Duane!” As you’ve noted, there is in fact a controversy over the use of radios in professional cycling. I’ll do my best to explain what’s going on.
It’s quite simple to define what a “race radio” is, actually. It’s any radio that is used to communicate with cyclists during a bicycle race. Due to the wide variety of ways in which a radio can be used, many problems — some intentional, some accidental — can occur.
Let’s go through some of the most prevalent.
Dangerous Directors: The primary — and by far the most dangerous — problem with race radios is the fact that race directors are incredibly frightening drivers. Trust me; I’ve ridden with one. They’re talking (and texting) on their phones. They’re looking at maps. They’re looking at watts and kilojoules and VO2 max scores and whatnot. They’re consulting with passengers in the cars. They’re handing out drinks.
Meanwhile, if the director ever gets a chance to look out the windshield, he’ll notice that the streets are lined, ten-deep, with people.
With all that going on, is it really a good idea for race directors to be saddled with the additional distraction of communicating with the riders?
That question was rhetorical, by the way.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Perhaps even more important than the “menace behind the wheel” issue is the fact that many team directors fancy themselves excellent singers, and will often sing along to whatever they’ve got in the car’s CD player. For example:
- Johan Bruyneel: Known to open up the mic and “treat” the entirety of Team RadioShack to hits from the 80’s, including (but not limited to), “You Spin Me Round,” Round and Round, and — to show his musical tastes are not strictly a product of the 80’s — “I Get Around.” Says pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer, “I suppose I understand Johan’s fascination with “round”-themed songs, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
- Bjarne Riis: During climbing stages, will — a cappella — open up the mic and sing the entire Abba catalog during long, flat stages, just to entertain himself. “The riders love it,” says Riis, citing, as evidence, the fact that he has informed them that they love it.
- Jonathan Vaughters: Vaughters is known for breaking into Riis’ radio channel and joining in for the chorus of “The Winner Takes It All.” Says Vaughters, “I find the song highly inspirational. And besides, Abba is awesome.”
Radio Quality: The truth is that race radios are simply not very good, and it’s very difficult to understand a thing the race director is shouting into the CB-quality microphone. As a result, the second-most-commonly-heard phrase in the peloton is now, “Excuse me?”
The first-most-common phrase is, of course, “What?”
Spoiling the Surprise: Finally — and perhaps most importantly — race radios eliminate elements of the race that would otherwise be very interesting. The most commonly-cited way in which race radios take away the excitement and unpredictability of the race is in breakaways. In the absence of radios, cyclists don’t know exactly how far ahead a break has gone, which means that they can’t let the breakaway get very far ahead.
This means, tragically, that Phil and Paul will have to figure out something else to talk about during an interminably long stage, instead of talking for hours about how perhaps this will be the group that wins the breakaway lottery.
But while breakaways will be given much less line before they’re reeled in, the absence of radios will add excitement in a much more key aspect.
See, one of the things radios are used for is to indicate upcoming obstacles, turns, and the occasional renegade cow on the course. Without radios, racers are likely to crash more often, and — even better — crashes are likely to turn into full-on pileups pretty frequently as well.
Which, as far as I’m concerned, is the very best argument for not letting racers have radios.
Why the Controversy?
So now that you understand the problems of race radios, you are almost certainly wondering why there could be any controversy surrounding the banning of them.
Well, there are two perfectly good reasons.
The first reason is that the UCI is behind the ban, and we have gotten so used to the UCI being completely screwed up in everything they do that we now assume that if they back something, it must be screwed up.
In fact, I’m having a certain amount of cognitive dissonance myself. I’m agreeing with UCI on something? Really? What am I missing? Weird.
The second reason, however, is much more important and practical. Namely, everyone — the cycling press, cycling fans, pro cyclists, the UCI, everyone — is just so happy that we’ve got a controversy to talk about that isn’t doping.
It is so refreshing to have an argument devoid of skullduggery, ad-hominem attacks and innuendo that, even though nobody — pro or con — really honestly feels like the race radio ban is that big of a deal, we’re going to keep talking about it, dwelling on it, and feigning outrage about it.
Although I assure you, my own personal point of view is very, very genuine and I am 100% committed to it and am willing to argue about it until I start to get foamy spittle at the corners of my mouth.
Hopefully, that clears the topic of the Race Radio Ban up for you. I’m glad I could help.
PS: I wish to reiterate that I’m very, very passionate on this subject. Very.