Jul 14 2009
Today’s stage, and the radio-inspired protest that dominated most of it, was one of the most foolish things I’ve ever seen at the Tour de France—and yes, I am including the Giuseppe Guerini incident in that list. And, lest we forget, I am adamantly pro-radio.
All the proponents of race radio had to do was play along with the premise: have a single bike race without radios. The stage had almost no potential for GC impact (apologies if Leipheimer and Wiggins are still stinging from missing the split), and baring an event of Merckxian scale, fans and organizers alike would see removing the radios does little, if anything, to shake up the routine of break-and-catch.
But instead, riders chose not to race at all. Riders union head and vocal critic of non-radioed racing Jens Voight made no mention of it after the stage, but Eurosport had it form reliable sources that the inexplicably slow tempo, the day after a rest day, was indeed a protest.
Tom Boonen called it “…a perfect opportunity for riders to make a statement…” but noted that “…everyone has different interests, and nobody knows what’s going to happen,” which seems like the sort of thing you’d say when you had agreed to a collaborate, but weren’t sure if someone was going to defect.
Johan Bruyneel’s comments post-race were almost smug: “The reason behind having no radios was to have more attractive racing and that’s obviously not what happened.”
The problem is that this protest is going to backfire. Refusing to test their theories will only make the advocates of radio-free racing more adamant that radios are stultifying riders and races alike. And because the peloton has shown unwillingness to do something as harmless as running a flat Tour stage radio-free, organizers or officials now have little other recourse but to ban them outright for the entirety of an event—or, God forbid, a season.
Riders like Grischa Neirmann had the right idea. The point of protest is to publicly highlight the shortcomings of your opponents position, and to that end, the best protest the pack could have given today was an earnestly-contested race, with lots of post-race quotes about how the radios didn’t make a lick of difference. Their failure to so much as attempt it only makes it more likely this conflict will resurface in the future.