The German veteran puts across his side of the race radio debate.

Words by Jens Voigt

Dear cycling fans,

The ongoing discussion about the radio ban seems to put a lot of different views and opinions out there. That’s why I feel the urge to put things in a perspective from a rider’s point of view.

I am 100 per cent pro the radio, for different reasons. The most important argument in my view is the security, not only for the riders but also for the crowds. Let me give you one or two examples.

Last year in an U23 race in France a spectator ignored all regulations and entered the parcours in the opposite direction of the race. What normally happens is this: the race director puts that news on ‘radio course’, the official communication channel between the race organizer, the UCI and the sports directors. Immediately, all sports directors spread the message amongst their riders over the radio to prevent a potential fatal accident. Now, in that French race there were no radios, which is the case in all U23 races. Try to put yourself into the position of any sports director, that knows there is a car riding towards the bunch. He’s not allowed to drive to his riders and warn them. All he can do is sit and wait. And maybe think about what he can tell the parents of one of his riders if he got hit by the car. Because this is what happened: the car hit a young Dutch rider, who was in a coma for three weeks. Everybody present in that race agreed that the accident could have been prevented if the riders had been wearing radios.

Now, I ask you: did anybody ‘who wants cycling to be more thrilling’ go to the hospital to see this young man and explain to his crying mother why its necessary that we keep on working on a radio ban? I don’t think so.

Another example, coming from my own experience. Two years ago I crashed badly in the Tour, riding in a breakaway. While I was lying there, bleeding, there was a big fuzz going on. Cars, doctors, press, etc. At least half of the road was blocked. Keep in mind that there are still 150 riders coming down that mountain with 80km/h. Luckily, the sports directors were able to warn their riders. Can you imagine that big group of riders flying down the descent, trying to make up time and come back to the group in front of them come around that corner unwarned and see half of the road is blocked with cars?!

Now let me ask you: aren’t these two stories – only these two – not enough to drop the discussion? If I had a fatal crash, who of you, who think the radio ban is a great idea, will go to Berlin and explain to my  six children that it was the right decision and daddy was just an unlucky victim in the so important battle for more drama in cycling?

There’s more. Can anybody please explain me how we’re going to attract sponsors if we develop our sport back into the stone age? An anecdote: two years ago Andy Schleck punctured five kilometres before the finish line. Luckily, we had radios and warned Bjarne Riis, who could bring Andy a new wheel in no time. Moreover, the team waited for Andy and we managed to get him back into the peloton, save his white jersey and his second place in the GC. Everybody was happy: Andy, the team, Bjarne and also the sponsor. Now let me tell you the same story, but now without the radio. Andy punctures, only one rider sees it, it’s noisy because of all the spectators, the other team riders move on, Andy raises his arm for the official sign of a puncture, other teams notice that Andy is not there, they start riding faster and faster. Once Andy has a new wheel, there’s only one rider there to bring him back. Andy loses his white jersey and the second place, finishes ninth overall, Bjarne is unhappy and so are our sponsors. In the end the sponsor might even pull back and it’s the end of the team. Thanks to the radio ban. Of course, this is exaggerated, but I just want to get my point across.

Another urban myth is that the breakaway has better chances without the radios – never heard more nonsense than that. I am in the lucky position to talk on both sides, I was often in breakaways and I liked to have the radio, get some support from my team car, some motivating words and get exact info what team is chasing me with how many riders, so I can plan my effort after the action in the peloton. If i won a race in a breakaway it was because I was strong, in good shape, suffered like crazy and worked hard – does anybody think the radio made me go faster?

As far as I know every World Tour team pays about €150,000 per year for the licence. Feel free to make the calculation for 18 teams. One would expect that for that amount of money there would also be an interest in making the teams and riders happy.

To all the ‘fans of yesterday’, the ‘fans of tradition’ – what are you people talking about? Do you really want to go back to the times of Jacques Anquetil? In that time the Tour de France was a tiny little race with riders from France and maybe Belgium and Italy. Maybe 25 journalists where there. Each edition cost more money than it actually generated. Is this what you want? Because that’s how tradition looks to me.

To the journalists that support the radio ban – what are you talking about? How do you even dare to try to influence our working conditions? Do we riders give you tips of how you should work? Do we push for a ban on cell phones or laptops for you? Do we want to make your lives ‘more interesting and spontaneous’?

Finally, to the race organizers that agree to ban the radios – what are you talking about? Do I tell you to not use your mobile phone during the stage? No, I don’t. So what gives you the right to ask me to drop my communication? But if you are interested in more dramatic cycling, I’ve got some ideas: drop the silly, long stages, don’t let us suffer three or four days in the high mountains and don’t give us a week of boring, super long, flat stages. Why not consider some circuit stages: the fans will see us more often, it’s easier and cheaper for the tv crews and it’s safe to ride without radios.

Why don’t we agree on opening the communication available for everyone, like in Formula 1? That will attract people and the sport would prove to be modern and global. Everybody who is in the cycling world – fans, organizers, sponsors, riders, UCI and media – will agree that we face some more serious problems in the moment. So, let’s talk and find a way out of this homemade problem.

Jens

This letter is also being published in outlets in Belgium and Germany.

  • Dave

    Plenty of sports don’t allow coaching from the sidelines during competition – riders have to race and think for themselves. Fans, and plenty of riders, do want to see the racing of old, with risk takers and brilliant wins.
    Radios could still be used for safety with Directeur Sportif excluded. So could flags (motor racing), or any number of other signalling methods.
    Did you hear the one about the rider who did not hear the wayward car coming because his race radio was stuck in one ear and the DS was yammering on about how great he is going? Nothing can prevent ALL accidents. And another thing, Ask Johnny Hoogerland from last years TDF!! Stupidity is not eliminated by a radio.

  • Mike

    I think that the problem with “boring, predictable racing” isn’t with the radios but is with PEDs. When you can have one team control an entire race (state or one day)by riding on the front all day and allowing for an outcome that they perfer, then it doesn’t matter what the director tells them over the radio. Radios didn’t make racing predictalbe, PEDs did.

  • Jane Kennet

    Jens,

    I agree with everything you have written. One live saved by using radios is worth their use all over. Traffic is common and faster. Ban radios the. You must ban all other technological advances that could have any degree of influence too.

    There are alot of fans out there who agree and support your points of view.

    Anything that keeps you riding safely is a good thing.

  • Martin Littlewood

    As a keen supporter of road cycling I am easy when it comes to the question of radios. I think it’s essential from the safety point of view but occasionally it seems that the riders are riding like robots. My idea as a (sort of) comprise is to ban radios for time trials and only allow a neutral service car (with the rider’s spares) to follow. If the riders are not allowed to see intermediate time splits as well, would this not lead to a REAL test of rider against rider.

  • Harmon3

    Live radios is the way to go. In fact they should hook every rider with a power meter, heart rate monitor and gps. Cycling fans would have live online access to power, heart rate, gps positioning, radio communications, speed and cadence. Just about all sports and entertainment are moving towards greater “behind the scenes” access for the fans. Cycling should lead the way.

  • David

    Car racing uses radios and they seem to do fine. Nascar actually makes radios part of the event and a revenue generator by giving fans listen-only access. To the people who want a ban just go watch any circuit or criterium race and get your no talkie fix. For the grand tours where they’re out in open country with all the hazards it presents, I’m for keeping the riders and the fans safe above all else. If they ban radios I’m banning myself from watching the sport on TV and will get updates via web sites. That’s not good for the sport.

  • Lindsay

    I wasn’t sure what side to agree with about radios…but I think Jen’s speech about explaining to his children why he died really got me! *tears*

  • Michael K

    Team radios all streaming live online… Now THAT will raise fans’ interest levels. It might even defeat my TiVo. :-(

  • Larry T.

    Safety? How ’bout some PROOF? Less crashing, injuries or deaths after rider earpieces became widespread vs before? Really? If you buy the safety argument, then let’s allow the boys to have an earpiece (no microfones) connected to race-control only. They can receive warnings from the officials only, no connection to the DS in the car. I
    While it’s often a shame when mechanical issues cost someone a race win, that’s part of the game when you choose the equipment for the event. Choose a too-light tire and you risk flatting, using flimsy equipment shouldn’t be justified by having instant replacements called up via radio. Racing is becomeing boring and to save the SPORT doing away with radio-controlled racing is a step in the right direction.

  • Simon

    Did any of the individuals that have been critcal of Jens actually read all of his blog. He does suggest that open radio would be good for the sport, as it has been in f1

  • Andy

    I agree with Jens. Radios are necessary if only because of the safety aspect. The sport is dangerous enough without courting disaster

  • Yves Viegen

    Hi Jens,

    I understand your point about safety. And I understand your point about the stoneage. So why don’t we advance a bit in to the future and make all radio communication public for everyone to hear.

    Yves

  • Roland

    p.s. Sue, again, where am I saying things should go back to the way things were? And I’d be happy to crawl back under my rock if you actually backed up your arguments with reasoning rather than just insulting me.

    Hugs and kisses.

    xx

  • Roland

    Sue, Declan, I’m not ignoring the safety aspect, did you not read my comment advocating a neutral two-way service feed?! Keep radios, just take the DS’s out, that’s all I’d like to see. How is that ignoring the safety aspect?

  • George

    Safety measures = good.
    I cycle myself. Can ride similar bike as the pro’s. Can dress the same, can challenge the same mountains. Can watch the race from the roadside. There is hardly no distance between us normal cyclists and the pro’s. Thats what I like. Can enjoy watching the race on TV as it feels like I am cycling there myself. Love it.
    Now they want to turn cycling into a F1 type of sport. Bad move.

  • sbtokyo

    I agree with Roland. Radios among the riders only is a great idea. Allowing a neutral source to transmit important information solves the safety issue. Sounds like a very workable compromise.

  • skippy

    UCI will be content when the racers carry whistles for when they go over the side of a mountain !
    UCI will be happier with “Approved metal framed “Grandma bikes” !
    UCI will jump for joy when everyone gives them bucket loads of dosh for access to the Team Radio Channels !

    Fact is the UCI don’t give a damn for the racer as an individual, they are replacable ! Blogged as parrabuddy and tweeted as skippydetour about safety issues but i am only a spectator and like all are unnecessary from UCI’s point of view !

    UCI and the the federations can’t even send letters to Doping Suspects so what chance is there that they can address serious issues ?

  • Mallory

    Ok,
    A:jack, if your going to make a dig at someone at least get it straight, Andy schleck was not attacking the yellow jersey, he was wearing the yellow jersey.
    B:many of you are saying that a way of communication that is strictly a way of keeping the race safe is what needs to happen but jens is not the person to argue about this with…try the UCI.  They are currently unwilling to use any form of communication.
    C: who are any of us to tell a professional cyclist how to do his job, because at the end of the day that is their means of providing for themselves.  Many of you do not like the idea of the team director telling the riders tactics and strategies but again, that is their job. That is what they are hired to do.  If they are not coaching and giving direction what are they going to dorosier silently in the car?  So if you all don’t like the journalist example try this: this is the equivalent to taking the time out out of basketball.  The time out is crucial in getting directions from the coach to the team.  Would you ever just tell a basketball team in the last 30 seconds with a tie game to just go out there, play, do what they can and hopefully win? No you wouldn’t, anyone with a brain would say let the coach take a time out, tell the team what plays to run and how to execute th rest of the game to walk away with a win.  Cycling is no different.  Anyone who has not competed in a professional cycling race (which is many of the people making the decisions in this case) should not have a say.  It is clear what the majority of the riders want and it needs to be listened to.

  • Tom

    Hands free phones are proven to cause accidents in cars – unless they are proven safe for bike racing it seems to me radios should be banned on safety grounds let alone anything else.

  • Just Saying…

    Roland, you’re a tool. Jens is awesome

  • Declan

    Oh, and one other thing Roland, did you only read the second half of the letter and ignore the safety aspect of using radios?

  • Ritannette1

    I believe jens is correct. No wins by equipment failure. Last year the official maintenance man couldn’t change a tire in a TT and again on the road.

    If radios are banned, what next–bike computers, gears, bike weights–remember contador’s bike change and the proposed bike registration fees.
    The UCI goes too far choosing excitement over safety. Jens point about length of races is well taken and may contribute to accidents, doping and length of careers

  • HMM

    The U23 race example should be compelling enough to anyone with a heart. I am a fan who totally supports the majority of cyclists on this issue. Safety should be the priority here. I also agree with the concern over sponsors pulling out if top riders lose races due to preventable incidents. Cycling struggles enough as it is, and I personally don’t want to see the best riders lose due to stupid mechanicals or crashes when no one can reach them. It is FAR more exciting to me to watch all the top guys battle it out over a mountain or to the line in a sprint.

  • HMM

    The U23 race example should be compelling enough to anyone with a heart. I’m a fan who totally supports the majority of cyclists on this issue. Safety should be a priority here. I agree, too, with the concern over sponsors pulling out if top riders lose races over preventable incidents. Cycling struggles enough as it is, and I personally don’t want to see the best riders lose races over mechanicals and crashes when someone can’t get to them. That’s not anywhere near as exciting to me as watching all the top guys battle each other over a mountain.

  • OneManAndHisBike

    Dear Mr Voigt,

    I’m all for safety by all means, so riders should be equipped with a radio but one that only has a safety channel to warn of potential hazards that are unexpected or crashes and they should have a panic button or something to alert the officials/safety teams you have a problem, they can then inform your team/DS of this.

    I do feel that riders being plugged into their DS’s and riding like cycleborgs is not as much fun as seeing what individuals or teams come up with on the road in the moment. & while some mistakes will be made the moments you get it right will surely reward you the riders and us the viewers all the more?

    I do think the riders should be allowed input in changes of this magnitude though, and safety concerns should be addressed, but let’s not mix safety up with other things under a thin veil.

  • Sue

    Roland, you’re way off the mark. The main argument for the radios is for safety’s sake, rather than telling someone how to ride the race. These guys already KNOW how to ride the race. To compare the use of laptops to the bicycles that these guys ride is probably one of the more ridiculous things that I’ve heard.

    As long as you’re going back to the ‘way things used to be’, without radios, I have another idea. Let’s give the journalists a clay tablet and a stylus, shall we? Hm, maybe papyrus and blood ink? Let’s take the helmets off the riders… that would certainly make the races a little more interesting! (And yes, that last statement IS extreme sarcasm.)

    You’re obviously not anywhere near the same league as the guys who ride in the likes of the Tour de France. It’s not up to you to make this decision. I would have to think that if your myopic ‘perfect’ solution was so perfect, then the idea would already have been bandied about. Yes, you have the ONLY perfect solution.

    Go back under your rock.

  • Jack

    I agree with Roland on the Andy Schleck case – them’s the breaks. Some win, some lose. Don’t drop your chain when you’re attacking the Yellow Jersey if you expect to win the Tour de France.

    On safety, maybe Jens makes a more valid point, but the objectives of safety could be perfectly served by a common, pooled, one-way race radio that was just for alerting riders to problems on the road ahead.

    Most fans support the radio ban because they prefer the riders to make the decisions in the race, not the team directors. Radios liberate the riders – the winning riders must not only be physically strong but tactically clever.

  • Mees

    Roland, you’re completely right. Jens (and all the teams) is talking about safety but that problem can be solved very easily, every rider has a radio and a neutral source tells the riders about obstacels. And why can’t journalists say anything about it? Ofcourse everyone has an opinion about radio. Do you know why? Because you’re profesional sportsmen. Everyone is interested in you, so everyone has an opinion about it. I am not for or against the radio ban, because I think there were boring stages before the radio. But the arguments you give, Jens, do not make sense to me.

  • Mees

    Roland, you’re completely right. Jens is talking about safety but that problem can be solved very easily, every rider has a radio and a neutral source tells the riders about obstacels. And why can’t journalists say anything about it? Ofcourse everyone has an opinion about radio. Do you know why? Because you’re profesional sportsmen. Everyone is interested in you, so everyone has an opinion about it. I am not for or against the radio ban, because I think there were boring stages before the radio. But the arguments you give, Jens, do not make sense to me. And that goes for all the teams and riders who are against the ban of team-radio, your argument is about safety, but that’s nonsense, because there can be a neutral source. Gr.

  • Mees

    Roland, you’re completely right. Jens is talking about safety but that problem can be solved very easily, every rider has a radio and a neutral source tells the riders about obstacels. And why can’t journalists say anything about it? Ofcourse everyone has an opinion about radio. Do you know why? Because you’re profesional sportsmen. Everyone is interested in you, so everyone has an opinion about it. I am not for or against the radio ban, because I think there were boring stages before the radio. But the arguments you give, Jens, do not make sense to me. And that goes for all the teams and riders who are against the ban of team-radio, your argument is about safety, but that’s nonsense, because there can be a neutral source.

  • Roy

    I’d propose an open radio system (like F1) if the radios ar not banned at all. In my opinion, any form of tactical talks should, and in that I agree with UCI, be banned. The radios should just be for accidents, like crashes and punctures.

    Look at the Omloop 2008, the famous Belgian race which officially opens the European roadrace season. Philippe Gilbert jumped at 52km. The team was screaming for Philippe to return, because it was “madness to jump this early”. Philippe removed his radio, he was sure of his case. And he won. And that’s what the UCI wants; the riders should make the match, not the teamleaders. All you guys have enough tactical vision to make that match, these race-radios remove the racers initiative. It’s all in teamleaders hands, right now.

    All together, I think the “team-orders” should be banned. Drivers should the game, not the teamleaders. For the safety, the race radio should stay, but for example should be checked by someone. To be sure that it’s just about accidents, and not about tactics. That’s my opinion.

  • Ines

    Kudos Jens;glad you have the guts to speak up!Hum..Roland:there can not be compromise if the UCI is NOT even willing to discuss it

  • Really?

    You don’t seem to care about the valid arguments it seems…

  • Adam bax

    I totally agree. No one who has not rode a bike in those conditions has a right to say anything. Further example was the womens national champs 2010. Break away rider crashed on a blind bend decent. A car is stook behind the rider and has 2 options. A) drive and run over the cyclist. B) stay still and have a pelagic crash into the back. A group with no radios to know what has happend. Offcourse there was a crash a pile up into the back of the car.

    Sport is about pushing the limits of Human ability. Why else would people dope if not to be better. We go forward not back. New equipment training nutrition. What’s the uci going to do next. Ban carbon bikes and go back to steelies with downtube shifters.

    I don’t see how it makes any sence at all. Well said jens

  • Jackie

    I don’t ride. I am just a fan of the sport. But it is amazing to me how the sport is trying to destroy itself from the inside. Most sports try to grow their market, and respect their fans. Not cycling. They seem determine to sabotage themselves. They ban people for innuendo, they let people ride with proof of doping. Then they risk rider’s lives for…. I am not sure what. To prove they can do whatever they want. It is a beautiful sport that most people know nothing about and judging by the way it is marketed/presented no one ever will. The lack of unification in this sport is startling.

  • Roland

    Oh, and another thing, if Andy come 9th, someone else would have come 2nd and another sponsor would have been happy. That’s cycling. Someone loses, someone else wins. Another poor argument, Jens.

  • Roland

    Why can no-one see the perfect solution is a compromise – two-way radios for everyone except DS’s, who can only listen. Many people have been shouting this since the start.

    Oh, and Jens, by comparing radios to journalists’ laptops, you’re talking balls. A laptop is a tool of the trade, equivalent to the bike you ride. A radio is outside assistance, equivalent to the journo being told what to write. Massive difference.