UCI begins enforcement of fork lawyer tab rule in Qatar

Mechanics lament change, but agree with commissaires that the move is safety-minded and fair

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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — The UCI’s technical commission doesn’t make idle threats.

To the exasperation of both riders and team mechanics, UCI commissaires have used the Tour of Qatar to begin enforcing an anti-modification rule that effectively bars team mechanics from filing off the small “lawyer tabs” present on the bottom of every team’s forks, just as the governing body promised it would last spring.

The tabs are designed to keep the wheel within the fork even if the quick release opens, but in the world of professional racing, mechanics have always removed them to hasten front wheel changes. Only French squads were previously forced to retain the tabs, due to French law. Now every squad must leave the tabs untouched.

“We’ve already had a front wheel change, I had one rider who was really upset about it,” Sky mechanic Gary Lim said in Qatar.

The enforcement is born of a rule long ignored within the professional peloton. Article 1.3.002 states, simply, “A license holder is not authorized to modify, in any way, the equipment given by the manufacturer used in competition.” With the adoption of the UCI’s sticker program, the governing body has strengthened its enforcement of the modification rule.

The UCI originally warned teams that the rule would be enforced early last spring, and UCI officials in Qatar have checked bikes to ensure compliance.

“The UCI like to make life difficult for us,” Lim joked in Qatar. “It takes us a few more seconds, but it’s more frustrating for the rider because they’re the ones who have to chase back. Basically, what the UCI are saying is that they want to see the riders motor pace more, because that’s what’s going to happen.”

Riders are certainly not pleased. The additional time may be small, but every second counts when the peloton is riding away at 50 kph. A fast front wheel change can take as little as 15 to 20 seconds; bumping that up to 25-30 seconds is a significant change.

“With strict rules, sometimes people are not happy,” admitted Belgian Thierry Diederen, president of the UCI jury in Qatar, before defending the policy. “After a while it’s finished and everyone understands that it works. It’s for security, not to create problems for the bikes.

“I know it’s slower to change the wheel when you have a puncture, but the more important point is the security of the rider.”

Crashes caused by the loss of a front wheel are extremely rare, however, particularly in road racing. A front wheel falling off as a result of a crash, rather than causing one, is far more common. Mark Cavendish’s final-stage crash in the 2010 Tirreno-Adriatico is one such example; his front wheel went flying into the air as he hit the deck.

“I don’t know why they made the rule, but I think it had to do with the insurance companies,” noted BMC Racing mechanic Ronald Ruymen. “You’ve seen in the past when riders crash really hard and the wheels fly out.”

Both Diederen and team mechanics were quick to point out that every team had to deal with the same issue now, creating a level playing field. More level, in fact, than when it was only the French squads that were forced to retain their lawyer tabs.

“Yeah, you have to turn a little bit more to close the wheel now. When it’s the same for every team, though, it’s ok,” Ruymen said. Diederen agreed: “If it’s the same for everyone, no problem. If the security’s better, it’s more important.”

The renewed execution of such a long-standing rule is tied to the UCI’s ongoing implementation of its “UCI Approved” sticker program. That program is designed to remove the misunderstanding and controversy that plagued start lines for years, as race commissaires used their own, often contradictory, discretion in enforcing the technical rulebook. A bike that was legal one race might be deemed illegal the next, without any actual rule change.

The stickers, in theory, allow a commissaire to simply note that an item has been pre-approved and move on. The stickers are only on frames now, but will soon be applied to forks and other components. If modifications are allowed after the approval process, the whole system loses its teeth. That is why “it is forbidden for the mechanic to change something about the material from the constructor,” as Dierderen explained to VeloNews. “With the stamp, you can’t change anything. It’s very important for the security of the riders.

Gregor Brown, in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.

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