The chess players of cycling

Commissaire with clipboard walks past riders getting ready to start a bicycle race

Man in charge: the commissaire makes sure everything's fair and runs smoothly in a bicycle race. Photo: Eddie Barkla

The Tour Down Under is now done and dusted for another year. We the viewing world are very blessed and fortunate to be able to have such in-depth coverage of a sport that if watching from a vantage point on the race circuit may only get less than a minute viewing in real time.

As long as sport exists, there will be a need for judges and referees or, as is the case in cycling, for Commissaires. Indeed, they will always play a crucial role in the sport, in spite of the marked lack of appreciation they sometimes receive from the highly motivated sporting fraternity. Although it is above all the riders that create the action and entertain the public, nothing would be possible without the Commissaires who like chess players keeping track of the moves in the cycling event.

Thanks to their constant commitment, discipline and enthusiasm, they make a great contribution to the fair running of the various races whether it is on the International stage such as we have just witnessed or be it the local club racing. They are therefore ready before, during and after races, ensuring the safety of riders and that ethical and sporting rules are respected. Commissaries are indeed judges, but they are much more than that. They support organisers, contribute to the improvement of the quality of races and are fully involved in the development of the rules of cycle sport.

Since some of the aspects of their function go beyond the framework of the rules, the Commissaries must be able to command respect in any situation. The Commissaires are therefore experts in the area in which they officiate; they have extensive knowledge of the rules of cycling and they perfectly know the realities of the field.

Before the race they get in touch with the organiser to study the race file. If necessary, they inform the organiser of any changes required. They also organise a briefing for organisers and teams, and another one for the Commissaries’ Panel. These two meetings have the same objectives, namely to study matters specific to the race and set the tasks for each person in order to have the best possible cooperation.

All of the Commissaries are part of a real team, each member of which works and cooperates with the others in harmony.  They must also be capable of playing the role of mediator between all those involved in cycling, ensuring that all riders and team managers and support crews are given an even-handed opportunity to perform their best. All decisions are made through the Chief Commissaries for the race event and quite often decisions made during the race are based on the advice and monitoring of supporting commissaries in how the race is unfolding. Such feed back as to what team members and riders are in what parts of the race, who won the sprints the king of the mountain stage the Chief Commissaries has that overview.

If and when any riders retire or fall behind the time allowed their names must be accounted for and numbers checked off. When is it safe for media to enter into the thick of the race? Are the circuit conditions safe to have the presence of a media motorcycle or vehicle?  When there is a breakaway when is it safe to give these riders neutral spares so all teams will be adequately without biased provided for if needed. Getting drinks and food to the breakaway and all team members in the race are all based on the safety of all the riders not to compromise in either advantaging or disadvantaging the race ethics. Knowing when to call for a clear road from all encumbrances of support vehicles and media as well as supporting commissaries themselves.

At the race’s finish will be the official time keepers and judges the Chief Commissaires ensures that these are all in place and they have some idea of what is heading their way. After the race they meet as the Commissaires’ Panel and study the reports written by each one for the application of any sanctions. The Commissaires’ Panel then organises two debriefings. The first debriefing, with the members of the Commissaires’ Panel, evaluates the operation of the entire Panel as regards the judging of the race. The second debriefing is held with the organiser. The President of the Commissaires’ Panel presents to it the positive and negative aspects of the organisation of the race, with the aim of improving certain areas.

See you on the road soon God willing.


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