Teams irked at Tour of Gila time trial after UCI rule change

Recent changes to the UCI rules regarding the configuration of time trial bikes left several teams in the lurch for Friday's race of truth at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, forcing multiple riders to compete in the 26km stage 3 individual time trial on their standard road bikes.

Configurations that were legal last month at the National Race Calendar Redlands Bicycle Classic and Joe Martin Stage Race didn't pass muster this week at the UCI 2.2 race in New Mexico.

The changes focused on the 80cm limit from the center of the bottom bracket to the end of the shifters on handlebar extensions. The measurement was previously taken with the shifters inline with the bend of the bars. The new rule added measurements with the shifters in their horizontal and vertical positions.

Bissell Development Team and 5-hour Energy appeared to have taken the brunt of the changes, with many of each team's riders competing on their road bikes. Hincapie Sportswear, the BMW Development Team and Marc Pro-Stava also had riders affected by the rule change.

Frankie Andreu, the 5-hour director, said the day proved to be a nightmare for his team.

"I had seven guys at the start, and we probably had to adjust six bikes," Andreu said, adding that the team's top time trial prospect, Jon Hornbeck, had to compete on his standard road bike.

"I've got several guys who are very meticulous and very anal about their bike setups," Andreu said. "And even their bikes were off. We had two guys miss their start times completely, one by two minutes and the other by a minute."

James Oram, the Bissell rider who won a silver medal at the junior world time trial championships in 2011 and took the victory at the San Dimas Stage Race time trial earlier this year, was forced to compete on his road bike on Friday and lost 2:49 to stage winner Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Maxxis). Oram dropped from 10th overall, 37 seconds off the leader's pace, to 13th, more than two minutes down.

The young rider from New Zealand voiced his frustration on Twitter, writing, "Dear @UCI_cycling, a rule is a rule, not an opinion. I vote for no changes to TT regulations from 1st Jan every year. No surprises #fairplay."

The problem emanated from vague instructions provided to the teams, according to a team mechanic who asked not to be identified for this story. The mechanic said that the notice from the UCI included several pictures illustrating the new rule, but the relevant paragraph explaining the new horizontal measurement was left out of the communique provided to the teams.

One team director, who also asked not to be named for this story, said that although the rule changes make sense in the long term, the lack of effective communication from the UCI hampered teams' ability to make the adjustments in time for the race.

The change left mechanics scrambling to adjust the configuration of the bar extensions and shifter set up. Some teams had the flexibility to make the last-minute adjustments, while others were unable to make the changes on the spot and had to fall back to using their standard road machines.

Andreu blamed the UCI jig that was being used at the event, saying that if the professional mechanics from the teams all had it wrong, the problem was most likely caused by the measuring device.

"For 10 teams to all be wrong, then I blame the UCI's jig," he said, adding that the UCI official measuring the bikes was eyeballing the center of the bottom brackets when placing the bikes in the jig.

"When you're talking about a three-or-four-millimeter difference, you can't just eyeball it," he said.

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.