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Cycling world torn apart by FT8 controversy

PARIS, 1 November 2018, AP.

The world of professional cycling has been in turmoil since last Wednesday, when the Organising Committee of the legendary Tour de France – widely recognised as the world’s most challenging and prestigious race – announced that, beginning with the 2019 edition, athletes using the controversial “FT8” electric bicycles will be allowed to compete.

The reasoning behind the Committee’s decision was clarified in a series of bullet points in an otherwise succinct press release. Basically, the organisers claim that the essence of cycling is pushing a bicycle on a road and excluding those using assistance by an electric motor would amount to discrimination. The Committee also made reference to the continued technological innovation that has supported competitive cycling ever since, and insists that allowing electric bicycles to take part in the competition simply reflects and supports the evolution of the sport.

Well-informed sources were quick to point out that the real reasons behind such an unprecedented move have to do with substantially increasing the number of participants, by attracting newcomers who have an interest in cycling but are not willing to commit to the punishing training and to invest the considerable personal and material resources needed to be a top competitor.

In the face of ensuing furore, supporters of the new policy also stress that the cycling population is ageing, their muscles slowly wasting away, and that the state of the roads in France is lamentable, making it particularly difficult to engage in more traditional styles of cycling. Furthermore, an obscure French bureaucratic requirement called “HOA Covenants” makes it almost impossible for many people to own a proper racing bike.

“Allowing the innovative FT8 bicycles to take part in the grand boucle – says Gerard Ducon, vice-President of the Committee and in charge of membership expansion – will encourage more people to take up cycling, and retain some of the more senior participants who would otherwise be lost to the sport.”

Understandably, traditionalists are up in arms. Whilst they have nothing against electric bicycles per se, and would be very happy to see competitions organised specifically for them, they maintain that changing the rules of the race after almost a century and allowing some participants to use what they clearly see as an unfair advantage is nothing short of scandalous.  A recent winner of the Tour de France, who prefers to maintain anonymity, explains clearly: “My title won on a racing bike is NOT the same thing as a title won on an FT8 bike! Yes, they both have two wheels, handlebar and pedals, but I won the title by pushing myself, after years of hard training, and now I will find people who sit – basically – on scooters, pretending they are competing in the Tour!”.

The controversy has been raging and shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Meanwhile, if these breaking news speak to your heart, and you don’t think FT8 contacts should count for the Mixed DXCC award (and, probably, not for challenging awards like VUCC and 160m DXCC), you may consider joining the True Blue DXers Club by clicking on the “join” link on this page.