Riding on a motorbike with their pilot alongside the peloton, the Regulators are essential to the safety of a cycling race. They need acute eyes and brains to rule the race, overcome the traps and falls of the roads and make decisions with authority.
Laurent Bezault was a Regulator for Amaury Sport Organisation (organisers of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and many more) for eight years. He is now a UCI Continental Adviser for Africa and has participated in writing a UCI guide on the role of the Regulator. Paolo Longo Borghini has served on the last five editions of the Giro d’Italia and three UCI Road World Championships. Together, they share their experience and reflect on the evolution of the role of Race Regulator.
“I basically switched from the bike to motorbike,” Laurent Bezault recalls. “I was in my last year as a rider with the GAN team, in 1993, when Jean-Marie Leblanc contacted me. He was the Director of the Tour de France and he was looking for a Regulator. My final race was the National Championship on the last Sunday of June. The very next day I was working for the Tour de France and a week later I was doing it as a Regulator. I learned the job on the ground with the other Regulators who were much more experienced.”
Some two decades later, Paolo Longo Borghini was in his last season as a professional rider when he received a similar call from Mauro Vegni (the Director of Cycling Events for RCS Sport, the organiser of the Giro d’Italia among other UCI WorldTour races). But it took a bit more time from the moment he retired, in 2014 after 14 seasons as a pro, until his first race as a Regulator, at the 2016 Tirreno-Adriatico. “First, I watched races from the organiser’s cars to understand what it means from the other side,” he explains.
Both concur: “You can’t improvise and become a Regulator on the fly.”
Policing the race
“Thanks to their flexibility, experience and deep understanding of the race route, Regulators instil a degree of calm at the event and among all involved, helping ensure the safety of the riders”, the Regulator’s guide states.
“At least one Motorcycle Regulator is stipulated at each UCI WorldTour event, as described in the UCI WorldTour – Specifications for Organisers.”
“It’s not the sweetest way to put it, but we police the race, in accord with the Jury of the Commissaires and the race organiser”, Laurent Bezault sums up. “The Commissaires are responsible for the sporting aspects but there are rules of circulation to observe in a race convoy. The Regulator enforces them and he anticipates what’s coming, according to his experience as a rider and his knowledge of the race and the route.”
Most events have more Regulators than the mandatory one. And their work starts way ahead of race day. “If you take the UCI Road World Championships, we went on the circuit with two other Regulators a month ahead,” Paolo Longo Borghini explains. “We checked the circuit, the finish and start areas, everything around the route, to know where the race will be and what kind of problems can arise. It’s very important to plan well ahead of the race.”
This level of planning helps them to indicate the dangerous points to the riders and leads to better decisions once the race is underway and the action spreads over kilometres. “If the peloton is closing in on the breakaway and you have lots of vehicles in between, you need to know about the changes of roads ahead,” Bezault says. But even the most informed Regulator still isn’t in for a smooth day.
Moments of stress and moments of grace
“To be honest, 99% of the time, I don’t know who wins the stage,” Paolo Longo Borghini assures, as he needs to remain totally alert through the buzzing environment of a finish. “The first sprint of a Grand Tour is very chaotic. The sprinters want to win, the GC guys and team leaders want to stay up front and avoid any trouble. The photographers need a good spot but they can’t be an obstruction for the riders… These are the most stressful moments, for me but also for everybody.”
“You’re not kicking a ball in a closed stadium,” Laurent Bezault adds. “It’s going up and down, right and left, it rains, the quality of the road changes, etc. So it always comes down to security and that’s what we stress about. You don’t want riders to crash and have serious injuries because you didn’t identify some danger on the road.”
Once the race settles, acting as a Regulator still brings unique moments for the cycling lovers who transplanted their passion onto the motorbike. “The Worlds in Bergen are my best memory as a Regulator,” Paolo Longo Borghini acknowledges with a grin. “I never got to participate as a rider, which was a dream, and this was my first time doing them.”
Laurent Bezault was at the front row to observe Eros Poli’s iconic solo victory on stage 15 of the 1994 Tour de France, after he dragged his 85kg up and over Mont Ventoux. “I can see him riding the last kilometres in Carpentras, taking his cap off to throw it to the crowd,” he now recalls. “That’s a moment of joy I lived on the bike.”