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Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK


Stepping back into the millennium

Outlawed from next January: Boardman's 1992 Olympic bike

Cycling's governing body, the UCI, believes there are two big challenges to be faced as the sport heads into the millennium.

One is doping, a view with which few disagree.

But the other is far more controversial - the issue of cycling technology.

As a result of major changes next season, the year 2000 will effectively see the end of futuristic bike design at the world's highest level.


[ image: Outlawed: Pantani with uneven wheels in 1997]
Outlawed: Pantani with uneven wheels in 1997
The men in charge believe that too much emphasis is being put on machine rather than human.

They fear a future like Formula One racing, where a driver can still beat a more talented rival with a better car.

The UCI also wants to protect poorer cycling nations from being priced out of the market, while there are safety concerns too.

So this Tour is the last time you will see bicycles with sleek all-in-one frames in the time trials.

It is also the last opportunity for riders to put a smaller wheel on the front of the bike to allow them to get lower on the bike.

And experiments with a bike's weight and dimensions will also be strictly limited from next season.

Grand Prix technology

Each change has an argument behind it - the carbon fibre time trial frames are expensive, with thousands of pounds spent on each bike using Formula One technology.


[ image: The Penny Farthing would not be permitted from 2000]
The Penny Farthing would not be permitted from 2000
Meanwhile the UCI says that uneven sizes of wheels make a bike more difficult to control.

The Superman and tucked-in riding positions used by British innovators Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree were banned for the same reason.

Boardman led a lot of the innovation when he won the Olympic pursuit title around Barcelona's track in 1992.

From next year the Lotus frame he rode then is banned, as are many of the bikes used by Miguel Indurain as he won five Tours.

This season Marco Pantani and Laurent Jalabert have used bikes with sloping top tubes, as seen on off-road mountain bikes.

Lightweight

The smaller frame shaves the weight off and is more efficient at transferring a rider's power to the road.

Some are prepared to accept the need for cost restrictions at amateur, Olympic and world championship level to increase the number of countries taking part.

But many of the same people argue that any of the professionals can get the same equipment, and that different rules could apply to the sponsored trade teams.


[ image: Obree in the now-banned
Obree in the now-banned "superman" position
They also say the men in charge are nostalgia buffs, who want to go back to standard diamond-shaped bicycle of their youth.

Innovators in the bike industry are particularly unhappy about this.

Mike Burrows, who designed bikes for Boardman and Jalabert, says jobs could be lost if business suffers due to a block on innovation.

Some critics have even suggested going all the way to the Penny Farthing, except that this historic bike also contravenes the rules on wheel sizes.

The UCI seems immune to the criticism, and is determined to impose the restrictions.

But some national federations are threatening to defy the rules - bad news for a sport which does not need another crisis.



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