Introduced in 1990 but criticized by the cycling world, the headset seems to be here to stay.
“I am in favor of removing them, but this is not a new debate. We’ve been talking about this for ten years and unfortunately we have to face the facts, this fight seems to me to be lost for good.“Questioned by our special correspondent at the Grande Boucle, Laurent Jalabert summarized the difficulty the anti-auricle has to be heard in the peloton. If they are not legion, there are. Take Pierre Rolland, very happy to finish a race without headphones at the end of May. “End of the Tour Alps Isère. Test 2.2, no headphones, no power sensor, no GPS. In the old days, one of the favorite cheerleaders of the French in the Tour rejoiced. The briefing regains its full importance and the role of the road captain with it. I’m all for running without headphones, less stress, more show and tactics!»
A fierce opponent, his former boss Jean-René Bernaudeau (at Bouygues Telecom and then at Europcar between 2009 and 2015) continues: “Today, being a cyclist is not just about winning, you also have to have one. Unfortunately, big briefings are no longer fashionable, before developing a plan A, B or even C.“Informative sessions, various plans developed in the”blackboard“, that’s precisely what national coach Thomas Voeckler and Julian Alaphilippe love, who won his second world title on instinct, in a race… without headphones.
Enhance the runner’s intelligence
“At the moment I am a T activist who brings magic to sport, explains Jean-René Bernaudeau, the head of the TotalEnergies team. Look at Alaphilippe, Van Aert and Van der Poel… you can’t do improbable things with headphones. It is a question of attractiveness but also of credibility.»
At a time when cycling is looking to woo new audiences, and that’s why racers’ headphones are now available for the ears of Netflix’s sound engineers, these solitary feats are an undeniable loss leader. Both for the public and for others. “The love for this sport deserves to regain its place, continues the sports director. The lack of appeal is linked to the fact that the races are somewhat remotely controlled. I want the journalists to be in the restaurant at noon and rush out to tell the story that the Tour is trampling!Professional between 1978 and 1988 before the appearance of headphones in the 90s, Bernaudeau vol “prioritizing the runner’s intelligence“.
A regular on the run during his career (1997-2018), where he twice won the combativeness award at the Tour de France, the retired Sylvain Chavanel pledges: “It is true that we have lost this instinctive side. The rider also does this according to the waves of the peloton. We watch and we can say ”hey, I’ll wear one” but today it’s more closed, we’ve lost that side.»
To buck the trend, Jean-René Bernaudeau is educating his youngsters to run without headphones within his prolific Vendée U (third division) training: “This is my struggle.A lost battle? “Teams will oppose his removal as it is the only way to train, agrees Laurent Jalabert. You have to accept that this is how it works. After all, in all sports, it has been accepted that coaches lead their team from the sidelines. I’m against headphones, but on the other hand, if I were a manager, I’d be very upset to take a position on this issue, I admit.»
Falls, the safety counterargument
Others are less so, starting with the managers of the big teams (Jumbo-Visma, Ineos, UAE Emirates, Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl). Architects of the race with strategies set mainly according to the place and health of their leaders, the big teams are the origin of the movements of the peloton. Objective #1, protect and bring the leaders back together. At the risk of becoming a cacophony. “Today there is more stress because teams are structured in a much more professional way. We believe that aggressiveness, without being pejorative, pushes the rider to always be in the first positions in order to avoid the pitfalls of the road.“, Cédric Vasseur (Cofidis) observed last year on the Franceinfo microphone, after a start to the 2021 Tour marked by violent falls.
Otherwise, less measured, Marc Madiot, who had almost lost William Bonnet in a terrible fall in 2015, then evoked the worst: “We can’t go on like this anymore, it’s not a bicycle anymore. We have to change. Maybe the equipment has to be adjusted, the headphones have to be removed, a lot of things have to be done. Because if we don’t, we will have dead people.“However, changes were mentioned, notably in 2009 when two stages of the Tour were found to be running without the prized accessory. Results ? The first (July 14) was marked by a semi-boycott by the majors teams before finally arranging the second one with the headset.
Since then, the debate has turned into a sea serpent, the various supporters melting into their arguments. Not without irony, the main argument of the pro-atrium remains… security. “Headphones have also saved lives, helping to avoid certain dangers“remembers Sylvain Chavanel,”not with the goal of banning headphones“. Jean-René Bernaudeau addresses an argument “absolutely hypocritical» in the face of instructions that are reduced to indicating the path and the risks for runners, with the risk of causing panic. “In the headset, at time T, all teams are always told the same thing (right turn, crosswind, etc.). Today we have the roadbook and the apps, so I disagree.Nobody is, after all.
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