- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 8 March 2011
Race coverage is changing; in the digital age cycling fans can get more intensely involved in the race than is possible with a television alone .
In part three of the seven part interview with Christopher Jones of Bicycles Network Australia (BNA), Jens Voigt shares his view on the level of digitalisation and technology in cycling today and why race radios need to remain.
BNA: Riding is becoming more and more digital, for example Team HTC Columbia was putting out live data on each rider such as km/h, power, cadence and heart rate. What are your thoughts on this level of digitalisation for the riders and teams?
Voigt: I’ve done that often. I did it in the tour of California. We had some test runs with Versus (US TV channel). We had a GPS and of course heart rate and power output and also the heart rate zones so they could show the percentages, if you are in the red or not, if you are going easy and I think people like that in cycling.
BNA: So you feel the increasing digitalisation in sport and society is positive?
Voigt: In this specific case yes. I don’t like everything. We cannot stop it. With Social Networks, I don’t think these are the biggest inventions ever or the most useful inventions because people come home, lock the door and go on facebook or twitter; they don’t even know how to say ‘Hi’ to anybody or how to shake hands. All they can do is type in twitter. They can twitter ‘Hey, I shake your hand’ but if they come to meet you personally, they don’t even know what to say because they are not used to it any more. People live more in isolation, in their imagination, in their parallel world.
|I think that’s a good thing to make cycling easily understandable and that people actually realise how hard of a sport it is sometimes.|
BNA: How about the popularity of twitter amongst fans when it comes to events such as the grand tours?
Voigt: Twitter is one way to put out your words in a way nobody can twist them or turn them around or cut them out of the context. I could give an interview and say one hundred things but maybe they take that one thing out to make you look a little stupid. If you twitter something it is you personally who does it so you can use exactly the words you want to. Nobody can change that message any more so that’s a good thing about it. Definitely I think that this is something we should look into. What is the suffering (sic), they can see the heart rate ‘Oh, he’s on this heart rate for half an hour, he is so hard’. I think that’s a good thing to make cycling easily understandable and that people actually realise how hard of a sport it is sometimes.
BNA: Have you noticed a change over the years with the ability to make spontaneous decisions, such as making an attack, even if this has not been discussed or planned?
Voigt: This is going to be a long answer. First of all, I like the radios. I think it is a good thing, but since I am a little bit old and have been in this business for a little longer, sometimes I think I would be allowed to overrule the comment I get on the radio. For example, if we just look in the morning at the map and we choose this arrangement and there should be a head wind and no chance for a break away. Then I realise out in the race ‘No, it’s no headwind, it’s a cross wind, we could do something here’ and I said ‘Hey I want to go’ and he says ‘No, no, no, it’s a head wind, it’s stupid to go’, and I go anyway. Then later I explain to him why and he says ‘Yes, I understand it. You were right, you were out there, you felt the change of the situation and you could react spontaneously’.
Some people think that the radio is a disadvantage for people who attack, [that is] the break away. I also spend, I would say, half of my season chasing after breaks because I have Andy Schleck in the yellow jersey or Frank Schleck or Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey so then I am really happy about the radio. Sometimes even I am in yellow and I would like to have the information as quick as possible about who is in the break. So it goes both ways for me. Sometimes you might have the disadvantage in the breakaway but next week you have the advantage because you need it; it levels out. I like the radios and also think spontaneously if your sponsor goes ‘Here is 10 million Euros for your budget, go out and race how you want’, that doesn’t work. They want to have a little bit of control over the situation because yes, they do spend a lot of money, so they want to have a little bit back for their investment; that’s only fair I think.
To give you a complete mirror image so that you understand my point of view, just imagine us if they would go ‘You know what, I think you journalists should have it more spontaneous: no mobile phones, and you all forget about the internet. You bring your little analog typing machines and you try and catch a train to the next radio station to broadcast the interview’, you would go ‘Are you nuts? Are you nuts? How can you even think about that for a second?’ And that’s us; we go ‘Are you nuts?’ We want to keep the radios.
Photos ? 2011 Paul Green (www.thepaulgreen.com)
I think it also has a huge advantage in security. I can take myself as an example when I was lying there two years ago in the Tour de France. I was lying in the middle of the road because I couldn’t move and no one dared to move me because they didn’t know if I had broken vertebrae or anything. There was my team car behind me, the doctor’s car and the official’s car; there were three cars behind me. It was a tiny road in the Alps, it was not the highway. At least half of the road was blocked with me and the three cars next to me plus some photographers and I think was quite far up front [in the race]. There were, I think, five riders in the front group and then I was with 15 riders in the yellow jersey chase group, Contador, Armstrong, Wiggins, both Schlecks, me. So there were 160 to come. They all came down that same hill at 80 kmh and if they wouldn’t have gotten a warning, ‘The road is blocked, slow down’, maybe another 10 of them would have crashed into the car and lay next to me. Honestly.
With the radios you can call ‘Hey guys careful’ every team got the warning ‘everybody slow down a little bit, everybody go safe’. Honestly, people really think we should ban the radios. I think this is purely cynical, far away from reality and just inhuman because it is so important.
There is this case of a young rider, Under 23’s (they are not allowed to have radios), in a Dutch race. There was a car ignoring the race officials, ignoring the commissars and the people who have blocked off the track. It came onto the race circuit in the opposite direction to the race and a young rider hit that car head-on and I think was in a coma for three weeks. Everybody involved, the organiser, the police – everybody said this could have been totally avoided if we would have had a radio.
The commissar goes ‘There’s a car coming’ and the director sits in the car and knows he has six young riders out there; he knows they are in danger but he can’t do anything. He has the information but cannot transmit the information to the riders out there so they don’t [know] anything about the danger and go straight into the car. How easy would it have been on the radio ‘Hey boys, stay on the right side, there’s a car coming your way?’ It might be an extreme example but still one case like that is one too much. The price you pay for spontaneity is too high. And who wants spontaneous? People want to have a bit of control.
|?stop making stupid 220 km stages, flat and in one direction. Of course you are going to have the same scenario every single day|
BNA: The radio free days are not a good idea?
When the organisers complain, when the TV complains, change the stages: stop making stupid 220 km stages, flat and in one direction. Of course you are going to have the same scenario every single day. And then you have that for one whole week to go from the Atlantic coast of France along the channel down before you hit the Alps. Of course you are going to have the same outcome every day. Change that; don’t make us responsible for it.
The Jens Voigt Interview:
Highlights: The Best of Jens
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Psychology of Cycling
Part 3: Cycling Technology
Part 4: Team Leopard
Part 5: Doping and the UCI
Part 6: German and Australian Cycling
Part 7: The Jens Phenomenon and the Future