Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge has made the case in the Dutch press for professional riders to have 'squad numbers' on their jerseys, just like players in football. Plugge's riders have had small, personal numbers printed on their jerseys for some years, while Team Ineos riders have their surnames printed on theirs. Is it finally time to replace the paper race numbers given out at each event with something a little more permanent?
"Commentators receive a different list of cyclists' names with each race," Plugge pointed out to the Algemeen Dagblad in a lengthy interview on the subject of bib numbers this week. "Teams who have numbers 1 to 8 one week then have numbers 31 to 38 the next. Commentators have to search again and again to find who's who. It's not very difficult when it comes to Chris Froome or Peter Sagan, but some riders are very difficult to recognise.
"Now, the number of the leader of each team usually ends in a '1', ascending through numbers for the rest of the team to one ending in '8'. Sometimes the race organisers determine the rest of the numbers, sometimes the team," he said, with riders often being 'ordered' alphabetically by surname.
"Bib number 1 is for the team of the rider who won the race the previous year, like at the Tour de France. But it may be that the winner from a year earlier is riding with number 18 or 41 because they've moved to another team," said Plugge.
While some in the past have pushed for a season-long numbering system, whereby every rider would have a different number based on their UCI ranking at the end of each season, others have proposed squad numbers within each team – like on football teams – which would mean that there were multiple number 1s in the peloton, for example, but in different coloured jerseys.
"Everyone can see the difference between, for example, our jersey and the Ineos one. Ineos would have number 1 for Froome or Egan Bernal, and with us for Primoz Roglic," Plugge told AD.nl.
Jumbo-Visma already have their own, discrete squad numbers, and have had for some years. Roglic is, indeed, number 1. Tom Dumoulin has number 6, Steven Kruijswijk has number 8, and the team's sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen, has number 14. The team also often has its riders' christian names printed on their aero road helmets.
The Italian Mapei team had its riders' surnames printed on their jerseys back in the mid-1990s, while Team Ineos started out as Team Sky in 2010, and has had riders' surnames printed on the jerseys since the beginning.
"We started with fixed numbers some time ago, and the rider keeps the number he got when he joined the team," Plugge explained.
At the 2015 Tour de France, when the normally yellow-clad team had a special white and yellow jersey to differentiate its riders from the leader's yellow jersey, the team's main sponsor was Dutch national lottery LottoNL, and riders had personalised lottery balls printed on their jerseys.
Following on from that, individual squad numbers have appeared on the team's jerseys – printed on the back of the neck last year, for example, and on the back pockets where the standard bib numbers normally cover them up this season.
"People think it says something about a ranking within the team, but it doesn't," Plugge explained. "When we asked the riders which numbers they wanted, there was little overlap. Riders choose their lucky number or the number of the date they got married.
"Dylan Groenewegen is from Amsterdam and therefore has number 14. I don't think I need to explain why," said Plugge, referring to the fact that the Netherlands' most-celebrated footballer, Johan Cruyff – who was from Amsterdam, and played for Amsterdam club Ajax for much of his career – mainly wore the number 14 shirt.
'Cycling has changed a lot, and today's bib numbers are outdated'
The idea of copying football and other sports with more permanent numbers than the rudimentary paper bib numbers dished out for each race tends to come up every few years, but has so far been resisted by the governing body, the UCI.
An added complication is the fact that bib numbers are often printed with a sponsor, which means that source of income for organisers would be lost if numbers were printed permanently on a jersey.
"From a sporting point of view, I'm quite surprised that bib numbers are still used," continued Plugge. "They're still used in athletics, too, and in the 100-metre sprint, in which winning comes down to hundredths of a second, you sometimes see athletes' numbers fluttering behind them like a parachute.
"Cyclists often have to pin their numbers on, and if a safety pin comes off, the number starts flapping, which is terrible [aerodynamically] for performance."
Numbers printed on jerseys, therefore, would put an end to traditional, flyaway numbers.
"Cycling has changed a lot over the course of history, and today's bib numbers are also outdated. Frame numbers, which were intended for photo finishes, aren't necessary anymore because all riders have timing chips on their bikes," stated Plugge, reiterating that the sport has moved forward in some respects, but not, in the case of bib numbers, in others.
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