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How is Drafting in a Paceline Different from an Electric Motor?

Back in May, I wrote How is Drafting in a Paceline Different from an Electric Motor?.

I’ve had time to think more about that as well as to ask a few riders. Two months later, I am more certain than ever of my view that an electric motor is not only no different in principle from drafting and team efforts, but has the potential to be more fair and equitable in a contest. That is, if it is treated as one more bike part (like bike weight), and its assistance is quantified, perhaps on a handicapping system.

My views have firmed up particularly because of highly negative reactions from others. And because the aid of an electric motor can be precisely quantified, just like the weight of the bike. At least if we are willing to admit that any kind of external assistance makes the contest unequal (e.g., drafting, one teammate giving up a bike to another, etc).

Yesterday, I brought up the topic with a strong rider who had just caught up with me and we rode side-by-side for some miles. This rider dismissed the idea out of hand, quoting tradition in essence. Frustrated in my repeating the core question about “assistance external from oneself”, he then stated that the bicycle itself was an “assist”. Which is an absurd and desparate assertion, since it is axiomatic that bicycling requires a bicycle. Unwilling and perhaps unable to conceptualize the question, he evaded it, not allowing himself even to grasp it. Cognitive dissonance precludes accepting an abstract concept, because then logic must ensue.

One might argue in favor of “team strategy” as a worthy sportsmanship goal. But when Team Sky can buy the best riders, all that’s going on is a collective effort bought by money. I see no sport in that, no fair contest.

Still, Froome acknowledged something significant the other day. He admitted that if he rode not for the well-funded Sky, which can afford to surround him with well-paid lieutenants, but for a smaller, lower-budgeted outfit, he probably would not be in the running for the yellow jersey. “If I was riding for a small team, it would be different,” Froome said.

There is no real winner in the Tour—that ostensible winner has had a massive assist from an entire team. The abdication of “let the best man win” in the Tour has long left me semi disgusted with the Tour de France, which is why I never watch it. The idea that a priori all but the annointed team leaders will not be allowed to win: “keep your place and do your job!”. Not an open contest where talent can shine when and where it is found. I find this disgusting from a sportsmanship point of view, let alone its disturbing parallels to the collectivism sweeping the world.

The 2016 Tour de France is over with Chris Froome the yellow jersey victor. Chris Froome essentially admitted that without the team funding, he would likely not have been the winner. In other words, money bought teammates who could aid him; shielding him from wind and thus personal effort. After a crash, teammate Geraint Thomas even gave Froome his bike! How is it a “win” for one individual who is shielded from effort by the most capable teammates money can buy, given a bike when his own had failed a personal effort? Why is a single person declared the winner for what is clearly a collective effort... why is Team Sky not the winner of the Tour de France?

Cycling Tour de France style is a team effort that is the antithesis of winning by one’s own unassisted efforts. That’s one type of cycling, and if it’s not obvious, one I’m not keen on—but at least it is well known to be a team effort.

And so back to the electric motor: it has no tradition and is thus open to immediate rejection. But in truth, is far more fair and equitable, since it is a device with measurable quantifiable properties that every rider could use. And in fact there would be strategy in using it wisely and well, since it has limited capacity. It might well be something to add some spice to the sport. Still, I have no desire for such a motor myself, and cheaters should be expelled for years if caught using one. Only if it were accepted as an aid with appropriate rules would it be acceptable.

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