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UCI Helmet Move Has Teams Scratching Their Heads

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Cycling’s governing body the UCI has frustrated a number of teams by outlawing Specialized’s new ‘head sock’ helmet and preparing an “in-depth analysis of the regulations governing the design and use of time trial helmets,” some of which were introduced in this week’s time trials at the Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. 

“After conducting a thorough process, which included consultation with Specialized, as well as examination of documentation linked to the helmet’s certification, safety instructions, and information from public sources, it was concluded that the head sock is a ‘non-essential’ component (article 1.3.033 of the UCI Regulations),” the UCI said in a statement. “As a result, the head sock integrated into the TT5 helmet will no longer be permitted for use at events on the UCI International Calendar, effective from 2 April 2024.”

This was bad news for Remco Evenepoel and his Soudal–Quick-Step team and for BORA-hansgrohe and Primož Roglič, Evenepoel’s rival in the currently running Paris-Nice and the upcoming Tour de France. Both teams have been using the head sock. Evenepoel, who has been very vocal about all aspects of his experience in the Paris-Nice, was quick to criticise the UCI.

“It’s laughable,” Evenepoel told Sporza ahead of stage 4 of the race. “There are rules around brake levers, but I still see riders riding around with their brake levers tilting inwards. Two years ago, they authorised our helmet, and now they’re taking it out. I kind of feel like they want to play with our [heads]. It’s not very friendly what they’re doing. There are other teams that are almost riding with a time trial helmet in the peloton. I’m thinking of EF Education-EasyPost. They’re dragging cycling into the ridiculous and they’re making all the riders turn against the UCI.”

Jonas Vingegaard
Cycling’s governing body the UCI has frustrated a number of teams by outlawing Specialized’s new helmet head sock. © Profimedia

But the UCI didn’t stop there. “Regarding the helmet manufactured by Giro Sport Design, which was used by Team Visma–Lease a Bike at the Tirreno-Adriatico prologue, as well as the Rudy Project Windgream HL 85 helmet (used by Bahrain Victorious) and Poc Tempor helmet (used by several teams), the UCI acknowledges that while this may not directly contravene existing UCI Regulations, it raises a significant issue concerning the current and wider trend in time trial helmet design, which focuses more on performance than the primary function of a helmet, namely to ensure the safety of the wearer in the event of a fall.”

As a result, the authority will be carrying out a review of its own rules and regulations of the design and use of helmets in competition in order to have what it called “a clear framework” for its targeted objectives, which is to ensure that helmets are designed and used primarily to ensure the safety of the rider rather than performance improvement. Any modification of therules, the statement said, would be rapidly communicated.

This suggests that Visma–Lease a Bike, Bahrain Victorious and several unnamed teams will probably also be scrambling to find new helmets for the upcoming Grand Tours. The team of Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert also reacted quickly. Visma’s performance manager Mathieu Heijboer told AD: “It’s quite striking that this statement has come out now. The rules regarding dimensions and safety were drawn up a year ago. We and the helmet manufacturer Giro started working within those frameworks.”

He went on to say that there is a strong likelihood that their helmet will be banned by the UCI and said that the UCI move was “driven by emotions and all the reactions on social media,” adding, “if the UCI has a problem with the design, they should have indicated this when the helmet was submitted for approval.”

Vingegaard wore the new, space-age-looking helmet for the Tirreno-Adriatica’s stage 1 time trial and finished ninth, 22 seconds behind the winner, Juan Ayuso of UAE Team Emirates. Soudal’s Josef Cerny wore the head sock and finished fifth, 14 seconds adrift.