Black is the new Shite

In June 2013, current UCI President Brian Cookson released his manifesto which ultimately succeeded in helping him get elected at the UCI congress later that year.

In that manifesto in the section entitled ‘Overhaul the structure of elite road cycling’ Cookson wrote the following:

The structure of elite cycling needs to provide a clear and compelling narrative that is easy for spectators, sponsors and broadcasters to follow. “

In its context, Cookson was writing specifically about the organisation of events throughout the year into a cohesive and coherent calendar. But if we cherry-pick a phrase from that campaign pledge, that cycling needs to be easy for spectators to follow, this is in rather stark conflict with the news which has been emerging from various UCI teams over the last few weeks.

As it is the beginning of a new season, existing teams and brand new teams have gradually been releasing photos of their new team kit for the year. It has been incredibly noticeable that there is going to be one dominant colour in the peloton this year – black.

A darkness will descend on the 2015 professional peloton

A darkness will descend on the 2015 professional peloton

When two football teams play each other, there are rules in place to ensure that the jerseys of the opposing teams do not clash. This is to ensure that the players and the fans can distinguish between the two teams – simple and obvious. When a non-football fan flicks on a match and doesn’t know which teams are actually playing, it is still obvious that there are two separate groups of players.

Cycling is a more complicated case because there can be upwards of 20 different teams competing at once rather than just two, but there are similar rules in place in the UCI’s regulations.

Rule 1.3.035 states:

‘Each team may use different clothing for one full event each year. The clothing must be submitted for approval to the President of the UCI WorldTour for UCI ProTeams, or the President of the Road Commission for other UCI-registered teams, at least 21 days before the event in question. The application may be rejected for reasons considered valid for the case in question, in particular any similarity to the clothing of another team.’

The rule might exist, but as so often with UCI rules, it doesn’t appear to ever be enforced as team after team release similar kits for 2015.

There is another rule relating to rider apparel pertaining to rain jackets. Rule 1.3.030 states:

‘Rain capes must be transparent or made to look like the jersey’

It doesn’t state in the UCI’s official documents on their website what the reasons are for this rule, but in a letter distributed to teams by the UCI, their reasoning was stated as follows:

‘Riders should be able to identify their rivals at all times during a race in order to respect absolute equity and regularity between athletes.

Commissaires must also be able to recognise the riders in order to make appropriate decisions regarding the sporting management of the event.

TV directors and commentators can find it very difficult to identify riders; this is harmful to the image of professional cycling for spectators and fans who are following the race live.’

If the UCI recognises that generic rain capes can cause serious problems for riders, commissaires, TV directors, commentators, spectators and fans, why is the same logic not extended to the jerseys themselves?

The rules state that the person responsible for approving or disapproving kit design is the ‘President of the UCI WorldTour for UCI ProTeams’. A check on the UCI website of the various roles assigned to the members of the UCI Management Committee reveals that currently nobody has been officially assigned to this position. So is it any wonder that so many professional teams next year will be in dark kit?

It’s hard enough to explain to those new to the sport what is going on in races as it is, without all the riders looking alike. That helmets are now compulsory and many riders choose to wear sunglasses while riding makes it all the more difficult to determine rider identities. The commentators on 2015 races will certainly have an unenviable job of picking apart who is who.

If experts are going to struggle, what chance does the new fan have in trying to ‘engage’ with the ‘product’?

We saw with the recent Astana case of whether the team should be issued a WorldTour license or not that the UCI were hamstrung by their current set of rules and ultimately had little chance but to award them a license.

Here is a much simpler case, where rules actually already exist to take action. The colours of team jerseys may seem like a trivial matter when compared to doping, but a more generic looking peloton is also harming the image of the sport and dissuading potential viewers from immersing themselves in cycling.

The rules are there. Why are the UCI not utilising them?

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  1. flammecast - January 8, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

    To be fair though Cillian, with all the things Cycling and in turn Brian Cookson could and should be doing to clean up and make the sport better, what colour jersies they wear is well down the pecking order ?

    In saying that I no doubt expect Cookson to issue 14 millionty billion press releases on this hot topic and deal with the “court of public opinion” immediately and then promptly fall back to sleep and his default setting of not being Pat McQuaid.

  2. Peter - January 8, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    Totally agree Cillian – it is all very well swanning around the pro peleton on semi-closed or completely closed roads in black clothing but when amateur Joe/Joan Bloggs is training him/herself on unprotected roads it makes it that much harder to see them. I also agree that it makes it harder to pick out teams, although the UCI have been very relaxed in that respect for a long time. Still, it’s up to individuals to make their choice of clothing, as with any other aspect of bike kit.
    The only consolation for teams with brighter clothing in the pro peleton is that the dark jerseys will give them even more contrast!

  3. Steven - January 8, 2015 @ 6:02 pm

    This is a joke right?

    2 of the jerseys shown are blue, and only the Bora and Alpecin ones look anything alike. Of them all Sky have had a black jersey for their entire existence. I have never turned on a race and mistaken a Movistar rider, a Trek rider, a IAM rider, a OPQS rider for a sky one because they have black on their jerseys. Helmets, bikes, jerseys, shorts, logos, sponsors, mits, even glasses and shoes, make it easier to identify the riders.

  4. Stephen - January 9, 2015 @ 12:29 am

    I suppose the extreme answer to this problem lies in Japanese Keirin racing where each rider wears different brightly coloured shorts, jersey and helmet cover. A trip to Keirin racing is akin to a night at the dogs. With the betting as equally suspect.
    Or, alternatively, they could do a Vino and have pictures of each rider on the front of their jerseys.
    While the promotional pictures are easy to differentiate, I fear for Carlton Kirby’s sanity if the race was to take place on anything other than a blue sky day.
    Maybe Sir Dave is looking for the same excuse that Sir Alex used at half time against Southampton when he made the team change shirts at half time….and still lost.

  5. Owen - January 16, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    I wonder whether this is happening because teams are trying to increase their revenue streams by releasing kit that fans/ordinary riders are willing to buy and wear? The bright colours, although part of the history of cycling, are probably less likely to sell in volume as something more understated?

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