UCI clamps down on time trial follow-car trickery

New batch of regulations extends distance permitted between support cars and time trialists after rise of aero-enhancing strategy.

Photo: Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Team cars won’t be tailgating their time trialists in 2023.

The UCI released a battery of new regulations Monday, including rulings to increase the distance permitted between a time trialist and their team support car.

The updated law increases the mandated gap from 10 to 25 meters in a move designed to stamp out a so-called “upstream aerodynamic effect.”

“In cycling, we are especially familiar with slipstream. The rider in the wheel benefits from the wake of the rider in front of him,” Belgian aero expert Bert Blocken previously explained. “But there is also an upstream effect: a car or motorcycle behind a rider also pushes them forward, as it were.”

Also read: Grand tours, monuments to be worth more as UCI tweaks points scale

Blocken’s research found that a car following at 10 meters gives a drag reduction translating to 3.9 seconds over 50km – a difference that can split victory and anonymity in the WorldTour.

Studies show this drag-saving strategy can be nullified when the gap is extended by as little as five meters.

The UCI chose to further extend the gap out to 25 meters in its new update to ensure fairness and help safeguard rider safety in case of an accident.

“The following vehicle shall follow at least 25 meters behind the rider, shall never overtake him nor draw up level with him. In the case of a breakdown, technical support may be rendered only with the rider and vehicle stationary and the following vehicle shall not hinder anyone else,” states the updated UCI rule 2.4.023.

Time trial trickery at the top

Ineos Grenadiers was first noted to try the trick – here’s Filippo Ganna with A LOT of spare bikes at Tirreno Adriatico 2022.

The 2022 season saw a surge in cases of teams loading support cars with spare bikes and following hard on the wheel of their riders.

Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, and Quick-Step were all called out for steering support vehicles loaded with potentially needless spare bikes onto the wheel of their riders.

“This new rule aims to ensure that the results of time trials are not influenced by the proximity of the rider to the following vehicle and thus to guarantee the sporting fairness of the competition and increase rider safety,” read the UCI statement Monday.

The UCI’s update included no clampdown on the increasingly popular creation of “bike blockades” on follow cars, which serves to increase the upstream effect. However, the newly extended gap presumably mitigates this.

The tweaked TT law is effective as of January 1, 2023.

Other updates in the UCI’s statement Monday concern the position of time trial handlebar extensions, and a tightening of regulation around dangerous driving in the race convoy.

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.