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Jersey zips, drafting and radios not the most pressing problems
Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche may be part of the guiding body which helps to set the sport's rules, but his recent suggestions for "upgrading the image of cycling" were met with firm disagreement from the boss of his nephew Dan Martin, Garmin-Barracuda manager Jonathan Vaughters.
Speaking to Cyclingnews, Vaughters made it clear that personally, he is a big fan of Roche, winner of the 1987 Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, pointing toward the Irishman's heroic performance in the Tour as one of his own inspirations for taking up the sport. Yet as the president of the teams association AIGCP and a man who has unflinchingly gone head-to-head with the UCI over its rule to ban race radios, Vaughters said "I will have to respectfully disagree with the points Roche makes."
In an interview with BikeRadar, Roche said that he and his fellow members of the CCP (Pro Cycling Council), the advisory board that helps decide the UCI's rule making, were trying to help cycling's image, and named three things he would like to see eliminated: riders drafting on team cars to regain the peloton after a crash or mechanical, unzipped jerseys and race radios.
"It seems like we have so many more important issues to focus on in pro cycling," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "I'm concerned with the image of the sport too - the first and foremost is to make sure doping is finally eradicated. You can't keep harping on that, but when you're down to the level of unzipped jersey and sock height [another UCI regulation], maybe we have enough energy to focus on some larger scale projects.
"We don't need to be overregulating things that don't affect the core outcome or safety of races. [On banning unzipped jerseys] If I had ever heard this complaint form a sponsor I'd take it as a serious point, but I haven't ever heard that, so it comes down to an aesthetic - some people don't like it. I can see a team making an individual policy if the sponsor wanted that, but it's making a rule just to make a rule."
On the topic of banning drafting, Vaughters was adamant. "Crashes, punctures - they happen with regularity, but using a caravan, as it doesn't affect the outcome of the race... as long as you're just helping to give a rider a fair shot of getting back into the race, I have no problem with that.
"Because of the unique nature of cycling and drafting, if you're out of the draft you can't get back in - it can't be compared with other sports. You can't call a time out if someone gets hurt or has a puncture. Because we can't, we have to be able to adjust for those mishaps on the fly, and one way we can do that is to allow riders to use the caravan."
Roche made the point that fans might see riders drafting on team cars and view that as cheating, but Vaughters disagrees. "It's up to the television announcers and the media to educate the fans on this, and I don't think it's that difficult a concept to grasp."
The argument is similar to Vaughters' opinion on radios, which he feels improve the safety for riders and help to eliminate some of the randomness in road cycling which can yield results which some might call unpredictable, but which he thinks can yield winners that might not be the best riders, just the most lucky.
His opinion on race radios well known, having already waged a heated battle to prevent the ban from reaching the WorldTour races, Vaughters went on to suggest other issues the CCP might tackle.
"For example, with Volta Catalunya they had a blizzard roll in and there was a big battle over whether the stage should go ahead. There should be firmly established rules based on weather conditions that would cancel a race. Then the sponsors, race organisers everyone would understand it. Now it's just arbitrary."
With the world celebrating International Workers Day on May 1 and raising the issue of employees rights, Vaughters would like to see more care given to the treatment of retiring riders with the establishment of a more substantial pension fund, and to see the sport as a whole become more forward-thinking.
"One issue with doping is the riders have such a limited career, and they're scrambling to get as much out of it as they can while it lasts. We have to respect the retiring athletes to have something substantial through a riders' union that can get them through some of the hard patches that are going to come after retirement. The sport owes that to the athletes involved."
Such improvements can come in the future with an overhaul of the monetary system currently governing the sport, which is why Vaughters is working with race organiser RCS Sport to negotiate revenue sharing of television rights with the teams.
"All these [improvements] cost money, it's easy to say we should do them, but if the professional arm of cycling were run in a more business-directed sense, all of these things would become possible.
"Right now everyone lives in a temporary world where licenses are year-to-year and we're beating each other over the head for the points so we can get in [the WorldTour] next year. There's no continuity, so everyone's worrying about what they need right now, not looking five or six years down the road. That's horrible for athletes who have devoted themselves since they were 14, only to get a sport that has a non-stable employment environment because nobody wants to make a long term commitment."
However beneficial the ideas might seem, Vaughters sees the riders as being at a numerical disadvantage on the CCP. "The CCP is a 13-person advisory board. Seven of the nominees are from the UCI or represent the UCI. Roger Legeay is one, Stephen Roche is one. Of the other six - two represent the teams, two represent the riders and two are from the race organisers. Even if the teams, riders and race organisers all agree we can still be outvoted."
While Vaughters may be the most vocal critic of the UCI's rules, a recent no-confidence vote on the UCI's leadership from the AIGCP indicates he is not alone in disagreeing with the direction the governing body seems to be taking the sport.