Debating whether riders need visible punishment when breaking racing rules

What would it have been like if Chris Froome had been shown a red card and sent off, out of the race after taking an illegal feed in the last part of the Alpe d’Huez stage at last year’s Tour de France? Well, no doubt that would have ruined it for most of us and thankfully, that isn’t likely to ever happen. But the idea of visibly sanctioning riders when they break the rules by introducing red and yellow cards was put forward recently by Belgian Cycling Federation president Tom Van Damme.

While the initial idea might sound a bit implausible and difficult to envisage, currently there is very little awareness of riders being punished for breaking the rules, receiving only a retrospective fine or time penalty for the likes of drafting a team car or utilising the ‘sticky bottle’. In fact, while Froome’s penalty has received an unusual level of notoriety for such occurrences, barely a race goes by where fines aren’t readily dished out by the UCI and slip under the radar.

The idea fundamentally stands on bringing such wrongdoings by riders to the public’s attention, whether that’s through a commissaire with a card or a TV graphic, transparency seems the key. Moreover, why not reward the team with the lowest infringements in some kind of fair play league? And if it already exists, why not put more emphasis on it?

You may have seen Marcel Sieberg of Lotto-Belisol complain on Twitter, shortly after this year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, about how the escape group – which contained eventual winner Tom Boonen – were allowed to travel on a bike bath and not on the cobbled street which the peloton were forced to stick to. By the letter of the law, everyone in that group should have received a fine and significantly, should have been eliminated from the race for not sticking to the course. So why have rules if they will never be enforced?

This also has a bearing on safety of riders and spectators. Not using the pavement for example, would have certainly stopped Fabian Cancellara’s Trek teammate bringing him and half the bunch down when he fell off the pavement at Paris-Roubaix, and may make riders more cautious about finding alternative routes to the front of the bunch should they know a swift and heavy punishment awaits them.

When asked about the rules, Van Damme suggested a system of red and yellow cards, like those used in football.

“Even though in cycling not everything is filmed and we can’t see everything, but if riders were more disciplined, there would be fewer accidents.”

On the other hand though, some may argue that seeing a rider slipstream his team car back to crash, as well a sticky bottle or faking a mechanical in order to hold onto the car, are all part of the tradition of the sport now, and in their own way create entertainment and talking points.

It is hard to imagine a full proof system to visibly punish riders, but the obscure enforcement rules does separate cycling from its sporting counterparts, where rules and punishments have become more established and followed.

How would you change the way cycling enforces its rules? Which rules would you like to see changed or added to make the sport better?

Let us know your view and get involved in the debate online. Comment on the article below or get involved on the forum thread at CW.CC.