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Plans for UCI to restore disc brake trial leaked

Josh Cunningham
3 May 2016

After suspending their use in the pro peloton, the UCI is said to be reinstating the disc brake trial from June.

The Cyclingtips website has reported that leaked notes taken from a conference call involving the UCI Equipment Commisson reveal that the disc brake trial, suspended last month after the Ventoso furore, will be reinstated in June. 

Ventoso pointed an accusatory finger at disc brakes after injuries sustained in a crash at Paris-Roubaix, which prompted outcry from the pro peloton at large, and the subsequent suspension of their use - first by the UCI in pro racing, then by the French and Spanish national governing bodies in amateur sportive events. 

Cyclingtips reported that a forensic medical doctor had evaluated Ventoso's injuries and declared that they were unlikely to have been sustained by a disc brake rotor. But the UCI have supposedly acknowledged their potential dangers, and are looking into ways to address them, such as rounded rotor edges and the potential for development in rotor covers.

The CCP (Professional Cycling Council) is due to meet in June, where CPA (Professional Cycling Association) suggests further re-evaluation could take place, but we could see disc brakes reintroduced as early as the Tour de Suisse or Criterium du Dauphine in early June.


15/04/16 - Ventoso's crash: The climax and the catalyst

The use of disc brakes in the professional road peloton has been one of the most widely debated and sensitive quandaries of recent seasons, and the eventual conclusion will likely decide important aspects in the sport's technological, financial, and moral development. On Sunday, at Paris-Roubaix, one of the most significant chapters in this thread of pro cycling's story was written amid the chaos of a crash on one cobbled sector, where according to Movistar rider and crash victim Francisco Ventoso, a disc rotor was to blame for a serious injury.

'Two years ago, we started seeing disc brakes put on cyclocross bikes, and the rumour was that there could be a chance that they would be tested in road cycling events,' read an open letter by Ventoso posted on his Movistar team website. 'Was there really anyone who thought things like Sunday’s [crash] wouldn’t happen? Really nobody thought they were dangerous? Nobody realized they can cut, they can become giant knives?'

Colourbolt Maximum Black rotor

Pictures posted online [graphic] indeed showed Ventoso's injuries to be quite horrific, with a large flap of skin on his lower leg showing the impact of what must have been either a heavy or unfortunately directed collision. 'I didn’t actually fall down: it was only my leg touching the back of his bike. I keep riding. But shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane or surface that covers my tibia.'

Some raised the argument that, with no image-based evidence, it's effectively only Ventoso's word that can be judged. Others have bought into question the practicalities of the supposed collision; of the claimed impossibility that a disc rotor - mounted on the non-drive side of a bike - could have caused the injuries sustained on Ventoso's left leg. 

Regardless of the uncertainty, the claims were enough for the UCI to suspend the use of disc brakes in professional road racing - a move that has only provoked increasingly vehement dialogue on the subject. 

The one thing disk brakes are doing in the peloton is making it more dangerous. We don't need them! — Adam Blythe (@AdamBlythe89) April 14, 2016

But as well as scathing the current situation, some figures, such as David Millar, drew into question whether disc brakes should have even been elevated to trial period in the first place.

Still do not understand why the @UCI_cycling Equipment Commission allowed disc brakes in road racing. Read the @franventoso open letter.

— David Millar (@millarmind) April 14, 2016

Laura Mora, press officer for the CPA, Professional Cyclist Association, attests that the body was distinctly dismissive of initial UCI plans to roll out the test. 

'We wanted the UCI to consider the opinion of the riders before. We said to wait until we could make an enquiry - until we can ask the riders whether they want disc brakes or not,' Mora tells Cyclist. 'We sent a letter to the Equipment Commission and the UCI in November or December asking them to reconsider their idea of doing the test. Then the UCI made the decision without asking; without any enquiry with the riders.'

A UCI press release on 14th April, which announced the test suspension, recalls the earlier decision: 'After in-depth discussions with stakeholders, the UCI then decided to authorise riders from all categories of professional road teams to use disc brakes in 2016.'

How much liaising took place seems unclear, but Mora says that the CPA asked to at least be a part of the UCI's Equipment Commission. 'Our vice president Pascal Chanteur was part of this commission as an observer, with his voice saying: 'If you want to go ahead with these tests, please do it in a certain way, with some security for the riders.' 

The CPA nonetheless stuck to its original intentions, and marked down Paris-Roubaix as the perfect event at which to sample the rider disposition. 'We decided: "Ok, let's wait until the riders really test the brakes, and then we will do the survey." So we were going to do it after Roubaix, but then this [Ventoso incident] happened.'

It should be noted that in Ventoso's open letter, he noted that 'all of this happens because the international riders’ association –the CPA–, national riders’ associations, international and national feds, teams and, above all of them, OURSELVES, PROFESSIONAL RIDERS, are not doing anything.'

But this extraordinary incident was the clearly the neccessary catalyst. 'After what happened to Fran Ventoso we immediately called the Equipment Commission and discussed all the things we told them in the past,' says Mora, 'that we knew it was very problematic; that it was a risk, and that they couldn't go ahead in that way. We are happy with how they reacted.' 

'The decision', reads the same UCI press release quoted previously, 'follows a request to do so made by the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP) - which represents all professional cycling teams. The request is supported by the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA).'

The vested interest

While the immediate safety of the riders - at least against disc brakes - has been temporarily resolved by the suspension, it has by no means ended the debacle. After all, pro road racing is just one aspect of the industry at large, and manufacturers will be keen quell the potential besmirching of their product.

'We as a manufacturer believe in disc brakes, but there are clearly things that need to be addressed from a safety point of view,' says Michael Wilkens, the international PR manager for Merida (Merida's relevance being its position of co-lead sponsor and bike supplier to one of only two teams - Lampre-Merida and Direct Energie - using disc brakes at Paris-Roubaix, after the launch of its Scultura Disc the week before.) 

'As a manufacturer we've dealt with all sorts of bikes for a long time, and we've been through this process with mountain bikes. Obviously there are differences there, but there are certain parallels too - for example there was a reluctance to adopt discs in the mountain bike world at the very beginning. You could argue with road biking that there's lots of things that have happened in the past that have been met with an initial reluctance.' 

The WFSGI (World Federation for Sporting Goods Industry), who hold a seat on the UCI's Equipment Commission and represent brands like Merida, was also keen to place itself as firm proponents of the future use of disc brakes in road racing. 'The industry is confident that disc brakes continue to be one of the products of the future and will become an important part of road racing,' it said.  

'We would like to see disc brakes to progress further and we do think that for the majority of amateur and hobby cyclists, it will certainly be the way forward,' continues Wilkens. 'Even for the pro peloton, we believe that the added safety elements - be that descending in the wet, or the added modulation discs afford - will outweigh the risks that this accident has highlighted.'

However, it has been pointed out that Shimano is not a sponsor of the Lampre-Merida team, and so their products must have been purchased by a secondary party - be it Merida itself or the Lampre-Merida team - for them to have been used on a bike in competition. But Wilkens suggests that this doesn't excuse them from the situation:

'We're not alone here - it's going to be every bike manufacturer under the sun. We need to push the likes of SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo to change things - whether that's widening the rotors or shaping the rotors differently to minimise the risks - that communication needs to take place.'

Carbon sleeves to cover disc rotors is technology used in motocross, and it's a solution that some have suggested could be applied to disc-equipped road bikes, but there is another school of thought that - irrespective of covers and rotor reshaping - calls for a total redesign. As Wilkens says: 'At the moment it's mountain bike technology that has been slightly adjusted to work for road, but that development needs to go further.'

Motocross disc brake cover, as exemplified by

The shop window effect

Laura Moro is keen to point out that 'riders are concerned about what their teams and sponsors think. We know there are riders that didn't agree about the disc brake introduction, but said they will do it because the sponsor asked them to do so. Riders are sensitive about what the sponsors think, but security is something much more important.'

Lampre and Merida are in some ways unfortunate and unwilling belligerents in this tale, as many of the top teams, and their associated bike brands, have been using disc-equipped bikes throughout 2016 and the back end of 2015. It's a common assumption that 'the people upstairs' merely foist their latest products on the pros to take advantage of the advertisement opportunities that their idolised status brings. 

'The team have chosen to use disc bikes, rather than we [Merida] telling them to do so,' maintains Wilkens however. 'The feedback from everybody in the team has been very positive, which is surprising as we are aware that there's a certain reluctance in the pro peloton towards discs.'

Judging by the reaction, mostly voiced on Twitter, of the pro peloton at large, 'a certain reluctance' could probably be described as an understatement though, as there's been no shortage of vehemency in the public berating of disc brake usage in pro road racing. It's almost as if the Ventoso incident has allowed some to find their previously suppressed voice. 

'We knew that there were many riders who didn't agree about the introduction of disc brakes,' confirms Mora of CPA. 'But we knew there were other riders who thought it was a good idea because of technology developments and innovation - they want to test these products. We are not against technology and innovation, and we don't want to disappoint the sponsors so that they don't invest in our sport anymore. We just want to suspend it for now, and look for a better solution.'

What now?

'The majority of the work has to be done by the companies supplying the disc brakes,' says Merida's Wilkens. 'Communication between us - and all the other manufacturers in the same boat - and the disc brake suppliers - that would be SRAM, Campag and Shimano first and foremost - is already taking place.'

What does the UCI say? 'The UCI will now continue its extensive consultations on this subject by way of its Equipment Commission, which is made up of representatives of teams, riders, mechanics, fans, commissaires and the bicycle industry - via WFSGI.'

WFSGI Secretary General Robbert de Kock says the federation 'asks the UCI to immediately start the collaboration with all stakeholders on the future of disc brakes and safety in road racing.' But how long will this process take? 'It's too difficult to say,' says Mora, 'but in June there is the CCP (Professional Cycling Council), where all the UCI stakeholders, riders, organisers, and the UCI meet. Maybe the Road Commission will bring their view on how to reconsider the disc brake option.'

Weaving together the complex web of the multifaceted interests of cycle sport - be that technological innovation or sponsor investment - together with what is everyone's official priority, rider safety, is a task that was potentially first underestimated. Was the disc brake ready to be unleashed into the pro peloton? A press release from Merida reads: 'In conversations we had with the team and other involved parties, [we found] the potential injury risks due to the usage of discs were never a priority over potential added weight, individual brake adjustment, logistics, standards and neutral support issues.

'The ranking of priorities has now changed and we will do our utmost to support the safety improvements of disc brakes during racing so that not just the amateur rider but also the pro-peloton can benefit from the long lists of disc brake benefits.'

It's clear, from statements like this from Merida, and the aforementioned from WFSGI, where the manufacturers stand. It would appear, from the general reaction of the pro riders themselves, what the consensus is from a user standpoint as well - and at the moment, at least, the two are polar opposites. With so much money having been invested in disc technology by bike and component manufacturers alike, the decision by the UCI to suspend their use from competition is undoubtedly a big, consequential move. But now that it has been taken, there is no legitimate reason for an abrogation, and with manufacturers, athletes, and representative associations alike all agreeing that the current formula is not worthy of use, one thing at least is certain: It will be a long and difficult way back into the pro peloton for disc brakes.

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