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10-02-2021 | Peter Koens

Why does the UCI ban the super tuck?

The UCI announced Thursday a number of updates to its rules and their enforcement in a comprehensive statement that included several new safety provisions that were drafted after "a long consultation process". One of the most notable changes to the organization's safety protocols is the commitment to introduce, as of April 1, a ban on the so-called 'super tuck'.

The use of the 'super tuck' has sparked controversy, as many have questioned the safety of the method questioned, both for the rider applying it and for those around that rider. Those concerns were discussed last year along with several others at meetings of the UCI Management Committee, which then drafted changes to the UCI safety rules. The ban on the "super tuck" will be part of the rules against "dangerous behavior". Throwing water bottles on the road, another common occurrence with potential safety implications (as Geraint Thomas experienced when he crashed in the Giro d'Italia last year after riding over a water bottle) will also be banned. Other safety measures announced Thursday include the creation of a standard for fences to make mass sprints safer.


Cycling is a dangerous sport, a cyclist's crumple zone is as thick as the lycra of his cycling jersey so kudos to the UCI for its effort to make professional cycling safer. There have been plenty of examples in recent years of nasty accidents in professional cycling so efforts to make the sport safer will be embraced by all.

But if I think carefully, I can't think of one example in recent years where the application of the super tuck has resulted in a nasty crash. The super tuck became world famous in the stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France when Froome used this technique and won this stage. Since then you can see that it is used more often, in different forms, by cyclists in the pro peloton. In interesting article about the different versions of the super tuck and its effectiveness can be read here. The article also explains that the super tuck was used years before by several pros.

The super tuck looks spectacular. In the eyes of an onlooker or outsider, it may even look dangerous. But just because it looks dangerous does not mean it is actually dangerous. What we have to take into account is the fact that professional cyclists are very well trained people. They spend hours training and competing on their bikes so they are very dexterous with this device. Anyone can learn how to ride a bike but that is very different from riding in a peloton at high speeds or going down a mountain. Professional cyclists are trained to descend a mountain with their racing bike at high speeds, making their own judgments at all times about how to get down as quickly and safely as possible. The last thing a cyclist wants is to fall off his bike. With today's technology, the cyclist even receives information about the course during the race via the so-called earphones.

In recent years, cyclists have sometimes complained about the safety of the course, the motorcycles and colleagues who ride them into the fences during a bunch sprint. But never have I heard a cyclist complain about a colleague racing down the mountain in the super tuck position. 

Has has decided? And why?

Why does the UCI Management Committee decide to ban the super tuck and who actually sits on the UCI Management Committee? At closer examination there are all big shots from the cycling world from different countries in this committee but not a single cyclist or ex cyclist.

In the process, the cyclists were also not consulted at all. Jos van Emden, cyclist at the Jumbo - Visma team, wrote an article about it in the Dutch newspaper AD. He says that cyclists, unlike other sports, have no have any voice when it comes to their safety and health. Furthermore, he says: "The UCI is not concerned with the safety of the riders. We do know however how they come across to the outside world. To their own mistakes and shortcomings they don't look at." When I read that, I immediately see an explanation why the UCI wants to ban the super tuck. Spectators and spectators and outsiders think the super tuck looks dangerous, so let's ban it let's ban it so we as UCI look good to the outside world. This shows pure contempt for the cyclists. Or as Jos van Emden says Jos van Emden says: "We are cyclists, not circus animals". In the same article, Jos van Emden comes up with 10 proposals to make cycling safer.

Role model and imitative behavior

Professional athletes have a role model function. The code of conduct for professional athletes states: "A professional athlete is an example and shows respect for the opponent(s), your teammates, the referee or jury, your trainers, the spectators and everyone else. Pay attention to your language and how you present yourself to others. Be aware of your role model."

People in general but especially children between the ages of 4 and 12 exhibit imitative behavior of their sports heroes. So the question is whether the application of the super tuck by professional cyclists is a bad example for amateur cyclists, cycling tourists and children?

To answer this question I would like to refer to the 'descent skills' of Vicenzo Nibali, one of, if not the best 'descent specialist' in the pro peloton. In stage 14 of the 2010 Giro d'italia, he rode away on the descent of Monte Grappa on a damp road surface. He did not do this in the super tuck but in a 'normal' cycling position but with his hands on top of the handlebars close to the stem to minimize air resistance. I would not recommend it to normal mortals to descend on a damp road with the speeds of Vicenzo Nibali in this position with the hands on the handlebars. I really advise against anyone not named Vicenzo Nibali imitating this behavior. Is Vicenzo Nibali setting a bad example here? Is he forgetting his role model role as a top athlete or is he showing that he masters the skill of descending at high speed to perfection? By the way, that Nibali also makes the occasional mistake he proved during the 2016 Olympics in which he crashed hard during the descent, breaking his collarbone and forfeiting his podium place.

Daniel Martin also once in 2018 called for a ban on the super tuck. He received acclaim but others, however, jokingly responded to his call and wondered if perhaps a speed limit should then be introduced as well.

Demonstrative behavior is not something you enforce with game rules. It is the responsibility of the individual athlete to be aware of his role model. Dangerous imitative behavior by non-professional athletes is also their own responsibility. And in the case of young children, it is the responsibility of parents, trainers and supervisors to train and coach them properly in this.

Banning super tuck in a gran fondo

There are cyclists who can descend well and there are cyclists who can descend less well. If you go down harder than your skills allow, brake too late or don't cut corners properly then you are a danger on the road. A ban on a certain cycling position will not change this. Again, let gran fondo organizers deal with organizing as safe an event as possible and let the cyclist decide how to sit on his bike and get down as safely as possible. The rider knows his own skills best.

If a descent is very dangerous, an organization can always decide to neutralize that descent as is done in the Marmotte so that descending at too high a speed is discouraged.

In conclusion

Over the past few days, there have been several reactions from the current pro peloton and coaching staff. The most notable included Patrick Lefèvere, team manager of Deceuninck-Quick-Step: "I'm not going to tell a pro rider how to sit on the bike." And Kwiatkowski: "Don't blame us for causing crashes," referring to the slippery course of the Étoile de Besseges. According to Kwiatkowski, "there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of safety and organization in cycling. A maximum length for socks and a ban on descending on the top tube: the perfect distraction from helplessness." So says the rider who isn't the first to know after all.

In short, kudos to the UCI for their efforts to make cycling safer but as an old and wise Dutch proverb says "cobbler stick to your last". Let a cyclist decide how he rides and let the UCI deal with organizing safe races.

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