What do UCI Commissaires do at the Giro d’Italia?

We meet international commissaire Greg Griffiths to find out how the UCI keeps the Giro d'Italia safe and above board

Clock19:30, Wednesday 15th May 2024
Greg Griffiths, UCI International Commissaire

© Getty Images / © GCN

Greg Griffiths, UCI International Commissaire

Whenever we hear about the UCI, it’s usually because they’re spoiling our fun by banning some exciting new equipment or technique. It’s easy to assume that the UCI is made up of killjoys who love saying ‘no’ more than they love the sport of cycling.

However, as we discovered when we bumped into a UCI Commissaire at the Giro d’Italia, the people behind the UCI are passionate cycling fans, working hard every day to make sure the sport is safe and fair.

At the Giro, we met Greg Griffiths, one of the five commissaires policing the race. We spoke to Greg to find out who UCI commissaires are, what they do, and how they look after the races.

Who are the commissaires?

The UCI’s rulebook is hundreds of pages long, covering everything including bikes, riders, teams and even race organisers. To make sure those rules get followed, the UCI distributes commissaires to each of their races. At a big race like the Giro d’Italia, there’s a large team from the UCI.

“We've got four commissaires in the race, and we have a fifth commissaire who's a TV commissaire.”

The team on the ground is made up of the very best commissaires, cherry-picked from all over the world.

“We have a Dutch chief commissaire, a South Australian, a Belgian, and an Italian,” Greg explains. “Then we have six supplementary commissaires on motorbikes.”

This elite squad are watching for rule infractions. They are a common sight at the start and finish of races, where they check bike tech is within regulations and make sure everything is above board.

But most of their days are spent in the car, following the race. From the car, they pay close attention to the race, calling out rule breakers and providing information on the race situation to teams via the race radio.

Who breaks the rules?

Surprisingly, Greg says that most of the time, they focus on the vehicles, not the riders themselves.

“A lot of it is to do with traffic management, and making sure cars and motors are in the correct places, and not in the incorrect places.

“The riders tend to self-regulate a little bit, so if someone's been doing something stupid, then their compatriots will give them the smack around the ear. But, if there's sticky bidons or littering, that sort of thing, that's also what we keep an eye on.”

That said, since there are so many riders, there are plenty of rule infractions. As cycling fans, we only tend to hear about penalties issued to high-profile riders, but the UCI are constantly fining rule breakers.

“There's minor infractions every day,” says Greg.

The most common one is littering. Riders are keen to get rid of gel wrappers and empty bidons, but they can only do so when they’re in the designated litter zones that come every 30km or so.

“There's quite a big financial penalty for littering,” explains Greg. “There's plenty of litter zones in the race, so there's really no excuse for it.”

“It's okay to throw a bidon to a member of the public, but not into nature and not in the air, into a crowd so it hits someone, but that has happened.”

Litterbugs receive a fine of 500 Swiss Francs and are docked 25 UCI points. If they do it again, that fine goes up to 1000 Swiss Francs and they lose 50 UCI points — a high price to pay for empty pockets.

Besides littering, most fines are issued for taking food in an improper area or drafting behind team cars. Most fines are simply issued for ‘inappropriate behaviour’, a vague term that can encapsulate all kinds of things, such as getting a tow from a ‘sticky bottle’, or, as Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe) discovered on stage 8, crossing the finish line in the opposite direction following a stage.

So far, the UCI has issued fines on every stage apart from the first. A quick tally of the fines reported in IDL Pro Cycling shows that between stages 1 and 10 at this year’s Giro d’Italia, the UCI has made around 21,400 Swiss Francs, or around $23,600.

Who are the commissaires?

It’s easy to characterise the UCI as fun-sponges who dislike cycling, but in reality, the commissaires do what they do because they love the sport.

Greg, for example, has dedicated his life to cycling. He spent 40 years in the bike industry, working in bike shops, cycling magazines and marketing departments. He’s since been working as a commissaire for 25 years, during which he has painstakingly worked his way through the ranks, as he explained to GCN.

“There are various stages to get to an international level. So in Australia, there's a club level, then a state level, then national level.”

Levelling up to become an international commissaire takes time, experience and qualifications. Greg says commissaires sometimes wait six years to get onto the course to become an international commissaire. Even then, there is no guarantee that they’ll get the stamp of approval from the UCI.

“And then, if you're lucky enough or good enough to become an international commissaire, you start to get appointed to races, and eventually to races like this.”

Very few commissaires make it to the biggest WorldTour races of the year, but no matter whether they’re adjudicating at the Tour de France or the state championship, the first requirement for any commissaire, Griffiths says, is a love of cycling.

“First of all, you need to be interested in cycling,” he says.

This is not a ‘clock on, clock off’ job; it is a part-time role that people take either alongside a normal job or in retirement, as is the case with Greg. Given the countless weekends that any commissaire must sacrifice to follow the races, and the hours they spend cooped up in race vehicles to do their job, they need to love the sport to stick at it.

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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