An Unfair Advantage

posted Mar 29, 2010, 7:50 AM by Donald Vescio   [ updated Sep 12, 2011, 8:11 AM ]
The World Track Championships are over and UCI's president Pat McQuaid is worried about the economics of competition:

"We sometimes have teams riding on prototypes (bikes) that are costing 50,000 if not in the hundreds of thousands of pounds to develop. That works against the Olympic Charter, it's against UCI rules and it's against the sprit of fair play," said McQuaid.  (

In one of the major discussion board forums, there was an active thread that talked about economic disparity and the cost of equipment to compete successfully.  I read this commentary with a good amount of interest; what struck me, though, is that the most important economic factor associated with competition is not related to the cost of equipment. My thoughts:

I've been following the conversation of fairness and find it interesting.  My reading so far of the threads is that fairness is being argued on two points: to ensure that technology doesn't overshadow the athletic component of competition  (I like the idea of being able to roughly compare generations of performances); that economics should not be a deciding factor in determining the results of competition. 

It is the economic argument that I find most intriguing--while the cost of hardware can be significant, in all truth the real economic cost actually is associated with time available for training and competition.   It takes money (or student status!) to have adequate time to compete at the top of one's category; those who are working fifty-sixty plus hour weeks don't necessarily have the luxury of training time (and more importantly, recovery time) that many of the top performers have.  

So--what I'm saying is that there always are going to be inequities and that focusing on frame design really is a relatively minor component of the overall equation, provided that some general design standards (ie, UCI, for instance) are in place.    Personally, I find it more challenging to optimize aerodynamics under the UCI guidelines than I did pre-UCI restrictions.   This probably is one of the main reasons that I was drawn to cycling in the first place--one has to consider both technology and physiology to do well.  Even if we standardized bicycles, there still will be enough opportunity for variance, which always will drive up costs to compete.   See the reqs for the Athlete's Hour, for instance.  The equipment for such an endeavor would run more than my Cervelo P3C.  But what I can't obtain is the available time which would optimize my recovery; this is, in a small sense, part of a larger problem for riders who compete in federations that do not have adequate athlete support.