Wellens padded forearms and bars: UCI loophole or break the rules?
As the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”. Tim Wellens has apparently found a way to adapt his beloved puppy paw position, which was banned by the UCI less than 12 months ago, into something that can pass the stewards.
Wellens often finds success early in the season thanks to a combination of good early form, solid tactics and solo movement. While many of Wellens’ attacks culminate in the popular Belgian throwing his hands up in celebration, those same hands were usually draped over the front of his handlebars for most of the previous miles. That was until last year when the UCI banned his favorite ‘puppy paws’ position.
As Tim Wellens chased Nairo Quintana in the final kilometers of the second stage of the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, we spotted a rather peculiar shape on top of Wellens’ Deda bars. Closer inspection reveals that Wellens has a significantly raised handlebar tape section immediately behind his inward-slanted Dura-Ace levers. Looks like there is padding under the handlebar tape. The suit is presumably designed to allow Wellens to resurrect the horizontal position of the forearms, but with added control. Although Wellens didn’t adopt the full aero position in his pursuit of Nairo Quinitana, the intent of the padded tops is apparently clear.
In an update to its regulations on February 8, 2021, the UCI updated article 2.2.025 on the conduct of riders to include a section on the positions that riders can adopt. The update, effective April 1, 2021, states: “Riders must respect the standard position as defined by article 1.3.008. It is forbidden to sit on the upper tube of the bicycle. In addition, the use of the forearms as a point of support on the handlebars is prohibited except in time trials.
The UCI then released a safety guide in an attempt to clarify exactly which positions are deemed acceptable and which are now apparently prohibited.
“To help keep everyone safe during a race, riders should have full control of their bike at all times, while setting an example for less experienced riders. Riders should adhere to the standard position as defined by article 1.3.008 This position requires that the only points of support are the following: the feet on the pedals, the hands on the handlebars and the seat on the saddle.
The intent of the updated regulations was clear: to improve safety by ensuring that cyclists have control of their bikes at all times and can easily reach their brakes when needed. The confusion arose when the Tour de Belgique marshals disqualified Jan Willen Van Schip for taking an illegal position while using his Speeco aero drop handlebars. Van Schip had not draped his forearms over the center of the handlebars as depicted in the UCI safety guide, instead Van Schip was deemed to have broken the rules by using his forearms as a fulcrum although he also has his hands near/on the brake covers.
At the time, Van Schip and his team Beat Cycling claimed that the stewards had approved the use of the bar before the same stage from which Van Schip was disqualified. This was not enough, however, as the UCI headquarters weighed in on the disqualification, reminding Van Schip of article 2.2.025. The UCI also released slides from a presentation made to ‘all teams’ which included an image of Van Schip and Speeco bars (alongside an image of Chris Froome) in a practical example with the text ‘use the forearms as a point of support is not permitted.”
Clear as day, it seems. Till today.
By the letter of the law – “it is forbidden to use the forearms as a point of support on the handlebars except in time trials” – Wellens’ padded tops are looking for trouble. Importantly, Wellens can wrap both hands around both brake levers in the new aero position. Undoubtedly, however, questions arise as to whether Wellens found a loophole where Van Schip did not or whether Wellens can break the rules.
To what extent, if any, is forearm contact considered acceptable? Obviously, Wellens’ position poses no additional danger and he can easily apply the brakes when needed. Also, his forearms probably have little to no steering effect on the bars, unlike the Speeco bars. But you have to wonder what Van Schip thinks when he sees other riders’ forearms in contact with their handlebars.