Richie Porte, the UCI and I


When your non-cycling friends (yes, even I have them) have heard about an event in the world of racing, fair to say it’s big news. With the Giro d’Italia stage 10 penalty handed out to Richie Porte of Sky the outrage across the cycling and wider sporting and social communities has been, without exaggeration, enormous.

 

For a moment, the world had its next nomination for ‘most enduring sporting moment’. Simon Clarke, fellow Australian but riding for a rival team, swapping his front wheel for Richie’s flat one. Sportsmanship, Aussie mate-ship and old fashioned fair play encapsulated. This was reflected at the front of the peloton – where neither Astana nor Tinkoff-Saxo could be seen anywhere near the front. You take time from your rivals fairly. In the race. Not when they’ve had the unlucky misfortune of a flat tyre or other mechanical.

 

Only this wasn’t how Giro race director Mauro Vegni saw it. By his own volition he said he saw the pictures that were “flying around the internet”. Referred the matter to the UCI commissaires and in accordance with rule 2.3.029

 

 

Richie Porte and Simon Clarke were (each) handed a two minute penalty.

 

Could Signor Vegni could have exercised an alternative? And if not, why is his race simultaneously punishing and championing Porte? 

 

A fair proportion of the outcry has revolved around a rule that many did not know existed. And for those who did know, most (including professional riders) perceive it as being either: antiquated, counterproductive to the image of the sport or unconstitutional. Article 2 from the UCI constitution even states [its aims are to]

 

d) to encourage friendship between all members of the cycling world;

e) to promote sportsmanship and fair play;

 

All this to say we have a rule that is not only erratic within the UCI itself but also, until now, has actually been (inconsistently) enforced at lower levels of racing. I know this as I too have been at the sharp end of it.

 

My club, the Geelong Cycling Club, awards its club championship over an aggregate time of a road race and time trial. Last year I lead by 1:59 after the time trial. Short of a major disaster, I would not lose enough time in the road race (which I won the year previous) to not be club champion. As luck would have it, I puncture 5km in to the race. And in an almost carbon copy of stage 10 a mate comes up, just as my wheel and championship hopes are deflating. Whips out his rear wheel and offers it to me. Only for our club official (also a UCI ranked commissaire) to inform me ‘take that wheel and you’ll be disqualified’.

 

Now I could have argued (if I’d know all the rules) that this was a stage race, not a one-day race, and I’ll just cop the two minute penalty (note the punishment differs between the race formats)

 

 

then back myself to win by more than half a second. None of that happened. Race over. Club champion dreams in pieces. And unlike Richie, no chance for redemption.

Also before anyone tees off on club racing – a footnote. All my racing has been with GCC. I’m proud to represent them on State, National and International stages and I damn well wanted my name on an honour roll that includes National champions and Olympians. Greats of the sport. Readers are welcome to snigger. But I have no shame in openly wanting to win the title. A Grand Tour it might also not be, but I’m sure the desire to put an angry fist through a wall was the same with Richie as it was with me.

 

Now as disappointing as it is to see the same people who offered me the well-worn clichés of “that’s racing” and “better luck next year” now venting at the UCI’s decision, I’m glad the issue is finally getting some light. Not only has an opportunity been missed to show the world that cycling has moments of true grace, but at a grassroots level it’s a punishment looking for a crime.

I appreciate why the rule came to exist in the first place. And I’m also not calling for it to be abolished. There are murky situations (Tour of Hainan 2009) where it sounds like it is still required. Only there is a gaping inconsistency in both its enforcement and the ability for the rule to allow commissaire’s some discretion. Presently they either have to uphold it or wilfully ignore it. Neither are a good look. Both have occurred. And both give our sport a poor image.

 

I feel for Richie. I doubt a damn thing will done by Mauro Vegni, the UCI or his opposition (although with a boss like Oleg Tinkov, I can’t blame Alberto for not providing more than lip service). Heaven help the four guys in front of Richie in the time trial. As if there’s one thing I’ve experienced, it’s being passed by a rampaging Porte in a TT. He’ll be viscious. He'll be pissed. And he has every right to be. As does anyone who has been in this situation. Hopefully this is enough of a catalyst for the UCI to make appropriate changes and not what we normally see in cycling - nothing.