Robotic – That is What is Wrong with Cycling – IMHO (in my humble opinion)

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I was reading a few of David Millar’s retirement interviews recently and started thinking about some of his observations.  I don’t often agree with what David has said historically.  I think I take this stance because I am bitter about him doping-the way he “confessed” and then his almighty preaching about racing clean.  All of it seemed like damage control by him, or maybe JV, I don’t know.

But, he isn’t a super dumb guy.  He is just a guy that felt the need to explain getting caught cheating.  It’s what he came up with.  But, I do relate to this quote below.

“The team has become an identity for a rider; before, a rider would transcend the team. It’s become robotic. I liked the dysfunctionality, the cult-ness, the randomness.”

He went on to say-

“Obviously that led to the criminal aspect, the corruption, the madness, but I didn’t know that when I fell in love with it.”

I don’t really have any idea what he means in the 2nd quote, but really agree with what he says initially.

For most of my “career”, cycling was mostly, 1st, an individual sport, then 2nd, a team sport.  In modern cycling, it is opposite.  This has disillusioned me quite a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the team aspect of the sport.  I just don’t agree with how the professional teams have molded the sport into, as David says, “robotic”.

I guess we can blame Lance, once again, for this.  Lance’s building of teams, that only worked for him, really escalated the sport to where we are today.

It’s not really fair to completely blame Lance.  There are tons of reasons that the sport has morphed into a robotic state.

One is the team directors, sitting in their cars, felt like they were doing menial labor and needed an outlet to feel somewhat important.  Thus, the TV’s in the team cars and the radios.  You can’t have robots without a mechanism to sense,  control the action, and  to coordinate the robots.

Obviously, another is the doping.  With doping, one rider, or a group of riders, can stay good, nearly the whole year, better than everyone else, so the team can rely on them to perform at a super high level.   This isn’t the case when drugs aren’t prevalent in sport.

And I’m sure we could come up with tons of more reasons.  But, whatever the reasons, the end result is that it makes the sport boring.  Teams sitting at the front of the race, for hours, setting tempo, just to have a field sprint or race the last climb.  Sacrificing  a rider to just go back to a car and fetch water bottles.  Crazy.

It is worse with criterium  racing here in the United States.   Especially during stage racing, but it happens at all big criteriums.  One team of 8 riders, goes to the front and rides tempo for 90 minutes.  That is pretty boring-ass bike racing.  It isn’t going to garner new fans to the sport or keep the current ones.

One of the best things about the sport, previously, was the randomness to it.  Our sport is special because the best athletes don’t always win.  Drafting is pretty specific to cycling.  There are so many more aspects to it that just being a great athlete, doesn’t ensure success.   A great cyclist has to possess more than just good genetics.

I think that the UCI, and probably USAC, want our sport to have its heroes.  They think that each country, and/or team, having one rider, for the fans to cheer for, make the sport more popular.  And popularity is what brings in money.   It’s all about money.

What they don’t realize is that the sport can be successful, as it was, random.  The sport is beautiful because it is a visual sport.  A colorful field of cyclists is gorgeous on its own.  It is almost irrelevant who wins any given day.

I know you’re thinking, Tilford, you’re full of shit.  Sure, it matters who wins.  But it really doesn’t.

Look at the results from the 2014 Worlds a couple weeks ago.  Michal Kwiatkowski, Poland, made a beautiful move and took some calculated risks to win the race.  It was great to watch.  It was a beautiful move that paid off big.  Poland, that big cycling country, has the jersey for the next year.

Back in 1985, at the World Championships in Italy, a 39 year old rider,  who was thought to be well past his prime, Joop Zoetemelk, Holland, snuck away from a field of favorites, including Greg Lemond, to steal the victory.  It was a great move and memorable.

Someone wins each race.  The better riders will win more, but the sport is exciting when just about anyone wins.

We have a segment of the sport that allows the best cyclists shine.  It is stage racing.  Stage racing is the aspect of the sport that supposedly sorts out the best all around riders in the sport. But the whole sport isn’t only about stage racing, even though the powers at be, would like to make us all think so.

The sport is unique, and so great, because any size athlete can excel at some aspect of it.  You don’t have to be an American athlete, 6′ 3″ +, and 250 lbs., to compete.    (But when the same scrawny little climbers start winning the flat time trials, then we have issues.)   Any body style has a place in the sport, whether on the road, track, MTB or cross.  It is a very diverse sport in that regard.

I don’t know how to “fix” this.  It took a couple decades to get here and that is all that most people knowo f the sport.  Since television and the internet, all the sport most of us has seen is the current way.  They didn’t get to observe and compete when it was much more random.

I think that if they had a chance to see racing of old, they would realize that it is much better for the sport and is way more exciting













28 thoughts on “Robotic – That is What is Wrong with Cycling – IMHO (in my humble opinion)

  1. mark

    also mention the latest Grand Tour Challenge, if it materializes, will make it more interesting instead of the sports top athletes focusing the whole season on the TDF.

  2. Johnny Bugno

    Racing is a conundrum, but these things come and go. It is what it is at the moment but 5 years from now it will develop into something a little different and we can only hope Vaughters will give up dressing like an English fop.

    As far as crit racing in the US? You’ve got it all wrong – it’s like Masters racing, its not really racing, just an entertainment outlet. A bunch of the same dudes (that get older every year) squeeze into skin suits and smash into stuff like circus monkeys to entertain a bunch of drunks and bored spouses. I’m waiting for triple jumps and whoop sections to make an appearance at Speed Week

    I love me some crit racing, don’t get me wrong, but its just a subset that takes craft (not always fitness) to be successful

  3. Bee

    Your correct , sponsorship trumps all reasons for the similarity. Its the reason for systemic doping, “internal” doping controls, training / nutrition, and teams supporting a single leader.

    CX, some track events, and classic style road races still carry the surprise aspect that makes it exciting to watch or follow. I also agree with the point of it not mattering who wins. I have found watching the TdF, or other GT’s, that the GC is the least interesting competition to watch. The daily sprint stages are less dominated by one individual now, with the sprint and climbing jersey’s more interesting to follow over 3 weeks.

  4. Rob

    What about those who raced in the era of Eddy Merckx or Fausto Coppi? These riders had teams who could control a race and determine outcome. Many such teams who had the money throughout the ages of cycling often controlled the outcome.

  5. lemon badger

    Agreed. The “story” of the late 90’s brought in a wider money an audience, leading to the rise of teams built to perform/not lose the premier event. Its trickled down to hearing cat 3/4/masters riders telling how good they rode in support at the local business park crit.

    What makes exciting races – the favorites going for the win and the chance of an upstart/underdog taking a chance. The upstarts now all have contracts to ride in support of the team, orders coming from the director to control the race an not endanger the leader.

    On the other hand, I think it’s contributed to the rise of CX in the US. The rider/fans have gotten tired of seeing the “same” race for the last decade. And dope doesn’t increase mud/dismount/hop skills.

  6. Tom

    Take a look at the current results for tour of po yong lake. (facebook: ‘China Bike Race’) Specifically second place.

  7. Roberto

    Steve, you just long for the good ol days. But it is all about money now. That’s what happens, when a sport moves into the World limelight. Sponsors must be kept happy, or they can’t justify spending millions of dollars. Look how much bikes cost now. The sport used to be a cult sport. In the 70’s and even the 80’s, you had guys that lived like nomads, crossing the country in vans or rv’s. But the sport has gotten too big for that now. In Italy, small teams used to get invitations to some of the big races. A lot of riders got noticed that way, and made it to the big teams. But that can’t happen anymore. If you don’t have Continental team status, you can’t even be invited to big races. I can see why the current situation would make you sad. But this is what happens, when sports grow. And they grow, because someone saw a chance to make some money. The way the sport is now, a lot of riders will never make it to the big show. Riders, that in the past, might have excelled. I do find that sad.

  8. channel_zero

    It’s the combination of a live broadcasted race and race radio. The peloton has near perfect information.
    -how many km’s to the finish?
    -how many minutes to the break?
    -is the field gaining/losing to the break?
    -what is the makeup of the break? (some caveats here. It was permitted to go..)

    It measures the efforts to close in the last KM’s. Which, is boring. And please don’t play the safety card. It’s not valid.

  9. channel_zero

    You must be new. What limelight?

    The UCI struggles to fill all the slots on the WT.
    The number of elite races is shrinking.
    The number of spots on elite teams is shrinking.
    Domestic racing at least in the U.S. hasn’t grown at all in over a decade.
    Any kind of money or audience at a national level has been discouraged the UCI or USAC.
    The sport administration side is still filled with corruption as few have left in the wake of Armstrong’s sports fraud.

  10. channel_zero


    The changes in cycling is not some organic/chaotic affair. The UCI has a worldwide monopoly on the sport and answers to no one. The structure of the sport has changed to increase the flow of money through the federations. Meanwhile, the athletes are mostly on the losing end of this deal.

    The federations have chosen to do this to the sport to enrich themselves.

  11. Tom

    But wait, what’s wrong with a segment of the sport that is more about skill and mental game than general fitness? Granted, one still has to be mighty fit to do well against the bigger NCC teams. As a spectator I get bored watching long races where the most fit guy wins by just out riding everyone. I prefer watching strategy and intelligent riding play out.

  12. chuck martel

    If the riders don’t like the current set-up it behooves them to put together one that works for them.

  13. chuck martel

    Gee, nobody’s interested in the money, especially the riders themselves. Event sponsors are basically giving away cash in exchange for highly popular road closures. Unless someone can prove to those guys that putting their name on an event, or even a team, is economically advantageous, there’s no reason to do it. Nobody every mailed out Christmas cards because the post office sponsored a bike team.

  14. Touriste-Routier

    Don’t forget team size and the make-up of the field. Drop the maximum number of riders representing a single team from 8 or 9 to 6, and races will be harder to control. Increase the number of teams in a race (particularly with something to prove), and you might get some more action.

  15. Levi

    “As far as crit racing in the US? You’ve got it all wrong – it’s like Masters racing, its not really racing, just an entertainment outlet. A bunch of the same dudes (that get older every year) squeeze into skin suits and smash into stuff like circus monkeys to entertain a bunch of drunks and bored spouses.”


    Cycling is an awesome hobby and a joke of a sport. Between the doping, corruption and refusal to ban all dopers for life, rather than reward them with directors jobs and TV commentating jobs, who would want to be affiliated with it in general?

    Good old days racing = Awesome
    Modern day racing = Pathetic sham

  16. mike crum

    steve, you’ve complained more than a few times about boring and negative racing.. why dont you just enter time trials from now on??? you against the clock… no more complaining…you travel all over, enter the wisconsin state tt as well as the california state tt, and colorados.. get in your own states tt.. plus there are usually tt series in about all states..

  17. Bill K

    Crit racing, is American racing. You see the “real” thing when you are in the lower categories, or Masters races. I’ll always prefer watching a 45 minute Crit over a big time Pro race. The local 1-2 races are really good, too. It’s when the “Big Boys” show up…(Sorry, Steve) that things get boring.

  18. Bolas Azules

    The funny thing is most people, and many in the sport see a field bunch rumbling toward the finish of a TdF stage and they think “wow! 120 riders all sprinting for the win” and little do they know it’s really a 5-6 up sprint… Not too difficult to manage if you’re the appointed one on one of the teams that contests the sprints. Been there, done that and it’s all for show. Truth is the local crit with 20-30 guys all going for the win is more in the spirit of ‘sport.’

  19. cl

    Here’s your random! Fignon, Lemond, and Kelly slugging it out in the pouring rain for the ’89 world championship. Attack after amazing attack.

  20. lightclimber

    METALAC-USA Team Leader is Ivan STEVIC from Serbia. Was said to be banned for life in 2008 for doping (source: cyclingnews).
    He won the first stage at Tour of Po Yang Lake 2014… Among many other medium-profile races stateside and around the world…

  21. Levi

    Holy shiite, Bolas. Did you just wake up? I really lost faith in you with that cooment. By the way,do not count on me for any more help with your bolas azules condition. I don’t care how many times you ask, you need to find another outlet. Have you ever even raced?


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