Blazing saddles: Row erupts over rider positions in TTT

Johan Bruyneel (RadioShack) and Bradley McGee (Saxo Bank SunGard) drew the ire of race officials at the start line of the Tour de France's second stage, the team time trial around Les Essarts on Sunday.

Bruyneel and McGee were both on the end of fines for "improper conduct towards officials in the zone where the bikes were being checked," organisers said, and each hit with a penalty of 200 Swiss francs.

The UCI said that teams had been warned last month that saddles should be parallel to the ground for time trials (as per UCI rule 1.3.012). Tempers flared on Sunday given the belief that the rule that was not previously strictly enforced and UCI commissaires were 'suddenly' putting equipment under the microscope on race day. The idea being that with a slight tilt of the saddle nose of the saddle towards the ground, the rider is provided with better lumbar support while they can also push a bigger gear.

"Before it just had to be 'flattish', now it has to be perfectly flat to the ground," BMC Racing chief mechanic, Ian Sherburne told news agency Reuters. "They were insisting that the saddle be perfectly level which isn't how the rules had been interpreted. They're deciding to enforce the rule in a different way, right now."

BMC team leader, Cadel Evans described the situation as "nearly ridiculous".

"I suppose it compares with speeding motorists; on an Italian freeway the police tolerate 20-30km/h over the limit," the Australian said on his website. "In Australia they tolerate 2-3km/h over the limit. Today it was out with the spirit level to check that everyone seats were 'horizontal' as the rules state. Check any seat with a scoop or channel in the back and that rule has a wide grey area of interpretation, a lot more that can be measured with a spirit level anyway."

" I try to set up my bike as much as I can within the position rules without loosing [sic] too much of the very aerodynamic advantage that we work so hard to achieve, always in anticipation of how the rule maybe interpreted," Evans continued. "We only had to move the nose of my seat 2mm upward, just a little more unhealthy and uncomfortable."

Bruyneel was frustrated by the timing of the action from race officials, saying that the action: "led to an unprofessional spectacle in front of everyone to see - An embarrassment for our sport," on his personal blog.

"... riders have been using this exact same position throughout the year (most recently at the Dauphiné Liberé and Tour de Suisse TT). Now imagine yourself as a rider - you have been using this position in races and training (and previously/several times the position has been approved by UCI commissaires as suitable). You then show up to the biggest race in the world and are told that the same position you have been using is now illegal!!"


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