No Team cars vs Equipment durability

June 8, 2011

After my blog to eliminate team vehicles, I got some questions about how feasible this would be and whether it was fair that a simple mechanical could affect the outcome of the race.

To start with the latter, it would be my view that any rule that applies equally to each rider is per definition fair. Of course such a rule increases the chance a one-time event changes the outcome of the whole race, but is that materially different from a crash in stage 1 that takes out one of the favorites?

It really just extends the concept of what it takes to win. You already need mental, physical and equipment preparation today, we merely expand on the equipment preparation to increase the focus on durability and reliability. Plus, there will still be neutral support which could even include spare bikes.

As to the feasibility from a product point of view, I can only speak from my past experience at Cervelo. Cervelo has participated in Paris-Roubaix nine times, and everybody knows it is the toughest race for the equipment. Yet we have never broken a frame, or any other part for that matter. So it is certainly possible to develop equipment that lasts.

Maybe we are in a slightly unique situation because we always use the same frame for the pro team and the “regular” consumer, so durability is always a priority even if it’s not critical for the pros. This is less the case for manufacturers that make special frames for their sponsored teams, and unfortunately there are a lot of those.

Obviously this practice would change, or at least the focus of the design of such bikes would change, which to me is another benefit of the proposal – the bike you see on TV would then actually be closer to the one you can buy in the store for all the brands. No more superlight frames in the races and as halo models while the actual frame in the store weighs a ton.

9 Responses to “No Team cars vs Equipment durability”

  1. Kendall Says:

    I agree completely.
    Besides, mechanical issues already affect the outcome anyway. Ask Andy Schleck about the 28 seconds he lost the TDF by after losing 28 seconds earlier due to a mechanical issue.

    • Exactly. Although one can debate whether crossing your chain is a mechanical or an operator-error (I’ve waded into that debate before), the reality is that contenders are eliminated through fluke incidents already, from volcano eruptions to silly crashes to mere doping rumors to cutting your toes in the shower.

      Those aren’t quite the same as a mechanical in a lot of people’s minds, but they’re not that different either.

  2. Touriste-Routier Says:

    Gerard, while I like and appreciate your suggestions, i just can’t see the UCI conforming to this, if due to nothing else other than industry pressures. With such large investments in teams coming from the bike industry, they don’t want to see their riders on neutral bikes.

    While an equipment failure causing elimination in a one day race may be tolerable, it won’t fly for contenders in a grand tour. Neutral bikes are a last ditch solution; with pedal type and saddle height discrepancies, these are poor substitutes for one’s personal spare bike. But who knows, maybe we’ll see more teams hiring domestiques of similar size to their designated leaders, so that they can easily swap bikes if needed.

    • Thanks for the comment. I don’t think industry pressure plays that big a role in cycling (I should know), although it’s getting better there isn’t that much influence. And I also doubt that the industry would have such a big problem with it, as the neutral bikes would be used too little (even today bike changes are rare, once manufacturers adjust they’d be even rarer).

  3. ancker Says:

    I’m on the fence about this. I compare cycling to autosports on more than one occasion. I admit this comparison is where it sort of breaks down. In auto racing, the driver and the car are nearly equal when it comes to performance. A fast driver in a slower car will likely be slower than a slow driver in a fast car. This isn’t the case with cycling. Bicycles are these days nearly identical. The things that make one faster than the other is the motor (rider). The things that make riders excel vs others on the own bike is fit and physical ability. Though this too can be undone. Put any professional rider on a bike with too high saddle, too long bar reach, and myself in my first year of bike racing will have a decent chance of competing assuming all things equal such as riding on the saddle instead of standing, etc.

    Auto racing is meant to showcase the driver and car’s ability to complete a race. A car blowing an engine or breaking its suspension is seen as a failure of the car. A bike mechanical causing a bike racer to lose/retire is represented as a rider failure. Andy Schleck’s famous chain drop could have been chalked up to an improperly adjusted deraileur or chain tension, but it wasn’t.

    This brings me to where I’m on the fence. I don’t want to see a race lost because for some unforseen reason a chain breaks or falls off, but at the same time I don’t want to see a rider have to ‘wait’ for another rider due to a mechanical. There shouldn’t have to be an etiquette where if your nearest competitor has a mechanical you have to negate any advantage you gain from it. Racing is all about taking advantage of the situation. That said, a rider shouldn’t lose a grand tour because they lost 2 minutes while neutral support tends to a domestique 25 minutes back. I honestly don’t think there is an answer here.

    • Interesting points. One thing to keep in mind is not to apply a suggestion of a rule change to the current racing reality. Of course, if teams wouldn’t change their approach to equipment, they risk losing big races because of it. Those who adapt won’t.

      Your argument is a good one because it highlights that even in today’s cycling, races are lost because not even the dedicated team car can arrive on time. So there is this perception of support which in turn can lead to equipment choices that really come back to bite you when that support shows up too late. Hence maybe it’s better to take away that safety blanket and make the reality sink in.

      • ancker Says:

        This point you’ve highlighted about delays in team cars somewhat contradicts a point you made in your original article. Today with team cars, each team has the same chance of delay from their team car. (Unless there is some sort of ordering of team cars I’m unaware of.)

        The definition of fair, in your own words, is equal (insert support) among the teams/riders. If you remove team cars and replace it with neutral support, unless there is a neutral car for each team, someone will end up with a less favorable situation. Say there are 5 neutral support cars. The 6th guy to flat is going to wait longer than the 5th. The only way to prevent this is to provide a support car for each team. Then let the teams determine who gets served first in an instance where team members flat together. But if each team gets neutral support, then we’ll all ask the question why they banned team cars.

        I won’t even get into the race-radio debate here. But I will mention it will become a nightmare if you’ve got a guy in chase group one with a flat unable to get service because the neutral cars are supporting a crash with 5 guys in the peloton 15 minutes back. One would think using a radio to call for support would lend to the “first guy who reports gets service first”. But then how to do you justify a “neutral” support vehicle driving by a guy with a flat just because he called for support 15 seconds after a guy in the break.

        Wow, this is messy. I think I’m still sitting on my “there is no answer” fencepost.

        • The point about today’s team cars was not made to indicate it wasn’t fair (although there is a specific order for the cars which may be called unfair but it’s based on the team’s ranking so it’s transparent).

          Rather, I made that point to indicate that with or without team cars, similar “catastrophic events” can occur. It may just be a difference in frequency or severity.

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