Season's Underway, Time For Things To Fall Apart

May 7 2009

UCI testing of TT bike by Flickr user Neeta LindSo seeing as it’s the middle of the season and mere days before the second-biggest stage race of the year, what better time for drastic, sweeping changes to come out of nowhere. Let’s start at the top: the UCI wants everyone to suffer more and so has decided to enforce their utterly arbitrary 3:1 “fuselage form” rule.

You may recall that the boys from Aigle tried to do this back in February, but were met with protests. After all, the teams had gotten their equipment for the year, and had already tallied some UCI points with it, so in theory, the season was already polluted with “illegal” equipment. But I guess by the UCI’s logic it’s OK to enforce the rule now because teams have even less time to replace non-compliant components before the Tour.

I’m not going to pretend the resistance to this change isn’t about selling expensive parts to tubby Americans, but still, this is neither the proper time, nor the proper method of enforcement. What the UCI and the teams need to do is gather a bunch of engineers—the kind with degrees and work experience in aerodynamics, not the kind that took a physics course once and happen to be IOC members—to crunch some numbers and determine a point where, at normal racing speeds, aero equipment provides an advantage on par with a performance enhancing drug (say, 5%).

Then these same engineers should come up with a technical specification, unique to each part, that taken together, would ensure a more or less “fair” race. Both the teams and the UCI should agree to go along with this spec before the results come out, and to comply with it the season after it’s released, allowing manufacturers time to adjust to it. But the odds of the UCI, which seems to have a perpetual chip on its shoulder, handing authority over to people who don’t live on Lake Geneva and might not even be European, seems highly unlikely.

You may recall that this issue came up first at the Tour of California. Well, you needn’t worry about any future early-season regulatory surprises at the race, because it’s now the UCI’s latest weapon against the Grand Tour Organizers—aimed directly at the forehead of the Giro d’Italia. And Giro organizers RCS seem to be playing right into the hands of their grasping Euro nemeses, idiotically playing hardball with Versus, Eurosport, and Cycling.TV on international TV rights for this year’s event.

Even on the level of individual teams, things are a little nutty. Armstrong is looking to bail out his financially ailing Astana team, which, I have to admit, was the first thing I thought when Johan Bruyneel started painting his team car yellow and blue. And Katusha, the team that seems to have stepped into Astana’s role as the peloton’s sketchy, Eastern European squad, has jettisoned Austrian Champ Christian Pfannberger after his second positive dope test; predictably, he denies any wrongdoing.

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