Leopard-Trek professional rider Jens Voigt has written an open letter to cycling fans putting across a rider’s perspective on the recent ban on all race radio communication between riders and team staff during top-level races.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) decision to ban race radios has split opinion among riders, team staff and cycle fans.

Some riders and teams say that there are safety and security issues with the removal of radios, whereas many fans think the lack of communication helps to provide exciting, spur-of-the-moment racing. Pro-radio riders have threatened strike action during races to make their point.

Here we reproduce Jens Voigt’s letter in full, in which he puts across his views on the controversial issue.

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% 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 3 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 5km 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 team 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 9th overall, Bjarne is unhappy and so is 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 license. Feel free to make the calculation for 18 teams. One would expect that for that amount of money pay 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 were 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 interested in more dramatic cycling I 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 Voigt

Leopard-Trek

Jens Voigt is a German professional cyclist with the Leopard-Trek team. Among his extensive palmares he has won stages of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Paris-Nice, Tour of Germany and Tour of California, and the overall classification of Criterium International, Tour of Germany and Tour of Poland in a professional career spanning more than 16 years.

In 2009, Voigt crashed during stage 16 of the Tour de France while descending the Col du Petit Saint Bernard. He lay unconscious on the road after the incident and was rushed to hospital where it was discovered that he had fractured his cheekbone as well as suffering from severe cuts and concussion.

Related links



Voigt crashes out of Tour de France

  • SeanC

    Jens,

    Very good points, but having radios as they were being used is not necessarily the answer.

    Safety is a major priority in racing, so if radios would make races safer then use them, but all teams should use the same channel and have communication from a single source giving only information pertaining to rider safety.

    As for your comments regarding the sponsors and poor Andy and his punctures, well someone is going to win the race so some sponsor is going to be happy. And let’s face it, if Andy punctures there’d surely be a camera pointing at the tragic situation, so there’s some coverage for the sponsor.

    If you want radios for safety then there are many ways this can be done without needing communication with the DS. However, it seems to me that the biggest reason that riders want the radios is so that teams have better control over the race as they are more aware of what is going on.

    From a fnas perspective, this isn’t about tradition, most cyclist love all the new innovations we see each year (even though looking at a retro friction shift geared bike with brake cables showing and toe clips can be quite exciting). And you should remember, the teams pay the riders, the sponsors pay the teams, but ultimately it is the viewing fans that see the sponors logos and go out and buy their products that are supplying the wages. Cycling is your profession, but it is our sport and we simply want it to be as much fun to watch as possible – whilst being as safe for you as possible.

  • Rory

    Hi Jens,
    In the unlikely event that you’ll read this, In the light of Ricardo Ricco’s near fatal experience due to doping will you be writing a letter about the dangers of that?
    And if going back to the times of Jacques Anquetil meant back to a time when riders, like a member of your team, didn’t employ a gynaecologist for ‘training plans’ and every perfomace didn’t raise questions as to whether the riders didn’t have someone elses blood in their system, well then, yes, there’s plenty of fans who would love to back to that time.

  • Tony

    Maybe there should be a comissaire car that deals with communicating safety related information to the riders. No DS input is then required. Puncturing and getting back on is all part of the sport. Or should the race be neutralised everytime someone has a mechanical problem? Could be some real slow races.

  • Two Pork Pies

    Why argue sensibly when you can shout “Won’t someone please think of the children!” As has been suggested, the safety problem can be solved with radios for the riders but only for safety reasons. Radio transmissions are easy to monitor, so even if you let teams make announcements regarding safety it could be policed.

    His other arguments don’t amount to much and he seems to have forgotten that without spectators he wouldn’t get paid to do the job so many would love to be able to do.

    I’m stunned by how easily some people are swayed by a rant from a respected rider

  • sterv

    An intelligent letter/defence of radios from Jens, as you’d expect, that had me agreeing with keeping radios…. but then an equally good riposte from Mike Short, which, as an armchair fan, I find myself siding with.

    But isn’t the main problem – as usual – the UCI trying to smash through a change to the sport they think they own, with minimal consultation?

    How about testing various scenarios in real races, to guage which is the safest, but most satisfactory for riders and fans alike? Try the completely ‘open’ model’ Jens suggests, allowing fans to hear the radio comms between DS’s and riders (then we can guage for ourself how influence the DS actually has over tactical scenarios), but then also try the race radio-only approach – allowing for safety communication to riders but minimal tactical input from DS’s during the race?

  • TheGee

    How about radios with only safety-related communication?

    The issue about excitement and race radios is that they connect riders to team directors with laptops and ability to make calculations riders couldn’t. I can understand the point that risks making for less interesting riding.

  • Joss

    Jens has made me change my mind about radios, I think his best point is the opening of radio comms, that would keep riders safe and let us feel more involved as spectators

  • Mike Short

    Dear Jens,

    I fully appreciate and respect your views on this matter though, to paraphrase Voltaire, I do not agree with what you have to say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

    Radios are not a necessary adjunct to our sport. They crept into the sport over time and without much regulation. Initially, when they were being used by only some teams they led to a competitive advantage. They soon became ubiquitous. They have allow a DS to have unparalleled tactical input and control into the machinations of the race. I can see why a DS would fight tooth and nail to prevent their removal as they give them so much more access to the tactical development of the racing than would otherwise be the case. If I was a DS, I’d love to have radio contact with my riders.

    The issues of safety is a very real and pertinent one but you are mistaken if you think that the only way safety can be ensured is to allow individual communication between the DS and the riders. That method is selective and potentially problematic. I can dream up many scenarios in which this situation could lead to safety worsening. What happens if a teams’s radios fail or drop out or if the team cars are temporarily away from the head of the race dealing with another issue? Those riders must rely on the cooperation of fellow competitors – which, using your own examples, may not necessarily be guaranteed.

    Safety is paramount and should be the primary responsibility of the race organisers. Safety can and should be lead by effective race control not by relying on the information being fed to the DSs and then back to the riders. Riders are very good at making deficiencies in race control publicly known – eg Stage 9 of the 2009 Giro. Consultation and development of, for example, an effective set of visual and audio communications directly between race organisers and riders could easily address your concerns.

    On the flip side of this, riders have historically been very selective in their treatment of safety issues. I remember the early rider protests over the introduction of helmets. It took the UCI over 10 years to push through the compulsory wearing of helmets. It took the unfortunate death of a rider to finally seal the issue. I remember racing in both Belgium and France when it was compulsory to race in a helmet in Belgium but not France. I wore a helmet all the time and was treated like a fool in Northern France. I saw plenty of concussions in France.

    Lastly, your comment about the Schleck puncture has its antithesis with Cadel Evans in Stage 13 of the the 2009 Vuelta. Despite radios he waited for 1 minute for the slowest change in modern history possibly costing him a shot at the GC title.

    In summary, your comments are extremely valuable and, I am sure, represent the views of a vast proportion of the peleton. Your comments are worth far more than mine and I am sure you”ve heard everything I’ve said ad infinitum. Nevertheless, it is my respectful view that you are wrong. Your concerns can, and should, be addressed by other avenues. In the end this ban will lead to an improvement in racing both for the riders and the viewing public.

    My view, for what it is worth, is that the ban on radios will come about and racing will be all the better for it. The objections will slowly die away and riders will go back to using their heads for racing. The tactical nous good riders have will come back to the fore and will again be respected and highly valued.

  • Damien

    100% agree on Jens points here – get the radios back.

    I only wish he had put “Willis” at the end of every “what you talking about” statement.

  • zirxo

    I can see what he means with all the fuss about the car going against the riders and the cars at the side of the road in his crash, but I do not think radios are needed in any other part, so why don’t they just allow the riders to have radios connected to the official race channel where info like cars blocking etc. is being announced, nothing else.

  • Brendan Whyatt

    What can you argue with that,as usual Jens Voigt is the man of reason.I did think a radio ban was a good idea,but after reading this article,no way.
    The only way riders should race on public roads without radios should be on closed circuits as Jens said.
    The UCI should write an open reply to this letter and explain their veiws on the points Jens has raised.
    B Whyatt

  • Colin M

    It is pretty difficult to say “harden the F up and get by without full-time radio communication” to Jens Voigt. Damn.

    Although I think makes a good point about not using radios without realizing he does. Safety reasons, yes, use radios. Changes in the outcome due to uncontrolled situations, yes, remove radios and bring the soul back to a sport that too often relies on technology to make the races feel more like productions than hard men in battle.

  • Jim

    Radio reduction and hopefully banning is actually something the UCI has got right.

    If only open letters and proposed demonstrations would be sent and held against doping, that would be beyond commendable and a very worthwhile focus of energy in changing the landscape for the good and longevity of the sport as a whole.

  • Matt

    King Jens!

  • Martin Croxall

    Nice to hear a thougtful, incisive viewpoint about how race radios work for the riders. Jens is already a legendary rider and it’s quite obvious that he’s the type of guy that should formulate future policy for the UCI. Race radios are not the issue in cycling, drugs are, and the sooner we get someone in the UCI (like Jens) who can see that, the better.

  • James

    Surely an easy compromise is to allow radios for riders but it is all controlled by race radio and race directors and not the directeur sportif that way both arguements are dealt with.

    Security and safety is there as race radio can inform all riders of any crashes poetential problems as they are all on the same frequency in addition they could also relay time gaps etc. However team tactics would be down to the riders and not the directeur sportif ……..as far as i can see problem solved!

  • Sam

    Why not just give the riders one way radios so they hear the important safety announcements from ‘radio course’ along with their DS’s? This solves Jens’s two safety examples. Then give the riders two way communications between themselves for better more instinctive race and team tactics.

    There’s no reason I can see why there needs to be two way radio between DS and his riders for security reasons if as Jens’s states, they just relay announcements from radio course to his riders anyway. The DS is in a car sometimes over 1km behind the incident. There is nothing verbally he can do or tell his riders that the race director right within the riders can’t communicate anyway.

  • martin

    the alternative

    races where almost every breakaway gets caught due to mathematics are boring

    and i’ve watched enough of them to know

  • Simon Hall

    This is a great argument and I totally agree with the points that Jens Voigt’s is putting across.
    We should keep race radios, I watched the tour last year and it was one of the most exciting in modern times.

    The introduction of new stages like the cobblestone used in Paris-Roubaix made the race exciting and added a fresh element to the tour.

    Maybe more thought into stages like Jens Voit mentioned would be a better solution.

  • adam

    ‘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’? ‘

    Ha ha…. good point.

    Reminds me of Rik Mayall messing his lines up on stage: ‘Shut up! I don’t come and laugh at you when you make mistakes at work!’

  • PeterLB

    Jens makes some good points, but others don’t stack up, like Andy Schleck puncturing. He says his sponsors were happy, well, what about he sponsors of the team that could have taken advantage of the situation and taken the white jersey but weren’t given the chance? Were they happy? And why did the team riding against Andy Schleck see him puncture and his own team didn’t? Jens has painted a picture here that suits his argument.

    Of course the safety argument is pretty water tight, I can’t find fault with that one. But can riders get radio coverage from the race as the DS’s currently do so the whole peloton gets the same warning?

    I do also think that a lack of radios will make the racing more unpredictable, which I’d prefer.

    Good piece though Jens, it’s always nice to hear the riders point of view.