The Radio-Free Classics

Mar 1 2011

Het Volk 2008 by nicolas_de_vijldeDespite the fact that they are not “true” classics, this past weekend’s racing at the Omloop and KBK marked the first time that (to my day-job addled knowledge) trade teams have taken each other on in a high-profile one-day event without the use of radio earpieces. And while I hesitate to view a single weekend in February as a referendum on the quality of the sport without radio earpieces, I’d have to say that if it was, the jury is very much still out.

It’s no secret I’m pro-radio. But not because I’m an ideologue in the vein of a Johan Bruyneel, or because I’m a safety geek, but because it doesn’t make much sense to me to ban something that’s kinda hard to ban for— essentially—the sake of romance. I readily concede that many of cycling’s regulations (the double diamond frame) are for the nods to tradition, but like disc brakes in cyclocross, radios are part of naturally evolving technology.

Some people think they make the racing worse; I think these people are either uninformed or watch the exclusively Tour de France and get cranky during the flat stages. Take Stijn Devolder at the Omloop—some said he was caught out, while others are reporting he had a mechanical failure, and with no radio to call up for a car and a bike change, was forced to just make it work.

While I miss the good old days when MTB riders had to race the gear they started with, road cycling has been a fully-supported sport for decades now, and I think there are very few people would would argue that’s a bad thing. For my money (if there were a way to buy bike racing coverage in this country), I want Devolder to have a functional bike under him as often as possible, so he can start stomping the living daylights out of everyone (or at least trying to) at 60km to go.

You’ll get no argument from me that Boonen and Hushovd kinda paddy-caked it on Saturday (Flecha mentioned he made his attack when he saw them cranking gears too large to respond from), or that the race as it played out was anything but entertaining, but an irascible Devolder, pumping adrenaline as he roared back on from a frantic bike change, might have made the story a bit more interesting than he did towing Chase Group 3 for the final 30k.

Stijn Devolder CaricatureSunday’s action at KBK was similarly unconvincing as far as the radio arguments go. Aside from a spectator getting creamed by a wayward Rabobank rider inside two KM to go, not much happend that might have otherwise been avoided with radio communications.

But the dashing, devil-may-care attacks, timed with precision for catches and tight sections of road—the sort of thing anti-radio folks seem to think would happen every day if not for those darn earpieces—failed time, after time, after time.

It could be argued that a “nervous” peloton were forced by their lack of communication to keep the chasers close, but (ignoring the fact that this argument “blames” radios for pretty much any type of finish) the pack hardly seemed on edge, remaining roughly egg-shaped for most of the day, except when driven by the familiar precision paceline of a well organized chase or leadout train. There was plenty of the usual bumping in tight quarters, but a relative dearth of crashes goes further toward discrediting “nervousness” due to missing radios.

All that said, the important take away from this is that the racing didn’t suffer without radios—and for me, quality of racing is what matters. Plenty of bold moves were made in both races, and while we may have have lost one or two potential players due to the radio silence, it’s no more entropy than is introduced by cobbles, crosswinds, crosswalks or any of the other chaos part and parcel in a Northern Classic. A few cartoonists had a good time, but looking back Monday, it was just another weekend in Flanders.

And that—radios or otherwise—is just fine with me.

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