UCI and the Camelbak issue

On February 14th, hidden behind the roses and chocolates of the day, the UCI issued an email only press release on guidelines on the use of hydration systems, but it mentions Camelbak’s by name; no doubt due to their dominance in the bladder world of tube feeding systems.



UCI: The camelback system is authorised for competition solely for the purpose of rehydrating the rider. SfS: I’ve no complaints on this one at all, as it’s what the units where designed for.

 UCI: It must not be the case that the system, presented as a way of improving a rider’s hydration during an effort, is accompanied by a “aerodynamic clothing” advantage, in this way deflecting the camelback system from its original function. SfS: So if it improves the drag numbers it’s a No No, but if it doesn’t it’s ok? If it’s then used with none aero clothing is it then ok to create an aerodynamic advantage?


UCI: The liquid container must not be capable of holding more than 0.5 litres and must not be a rigid shape liable to be considered as a device for improving the rider’s aerodynamic qualities. SfS: seems a small amount of fluid, but I’m not sure how much a typical rider would use in a TT. My understanding is that many will start completely hydrated, so requiring less need to drink lots of fluid because the cells are loaded with water. I think it probably has more to do with the following ruling.

UCI: The use of the camelback system must not modify the rider’s morphology and must thus be directly attached against the body. SfS: a longer bladder, say around the 1 litre mark would allow more demorphing of the body as the bladder would cover more of the spine, and in shorter riders (say those on 54/52cm frames) a whole lot more.

UCI: It is recommended that this equipment should be presented to commissaires before the start of the event in order to avoid any risk of illegal use and disqualification. SfS: technically this covers all levels of racing which have organizations covered by the UCI as a ruling governing body. I’m not sure how many Commissaires will check this, or keep up to date with all the updates. 

SfS: With races such as the Tour de France with it’s long Time Trails these small benefits can present huge advantages, especially to those those who this is not their best discipline. I am sure that in recent months/years it has been the Fránk Schleck incident that has prompted the UCI to create a ruling to cover this subject. UCI: Because of the scope for misinterpretation of the rules and restrictions concerning the use ofhydration systems during races, the UCI did not take disciplinary measures over the incidents observed in 2011. However, this position on situations which have arisen in the past may not in any event be invoked as a precedent during any disciplinary proceedings which may arise from now on.

SfS: The aerodynamic advantages are clear, and I think these with no doubt Top Level rider involvement helped create the RaceBak will now be illegal if used with the full 2 litre bladder.


The new ruling is pretty clear, and I am sure that the Teams will look to have the rules interpreted for them to see how they can still use this technology to gain an advantage. My best guess would be that a rider may use it filled with icecubes on hot races, so bringing the core temperature down and aiding performance. As the ice melts it would still provide some fluid, which on long Time Trails would be of an additional benefit. I’d expect the riders to still use a bottle with some ‘mix’ in it, especially on a very hot day.

UCI: The use of the camelback system will only be allowed on the back of the rider as agreed in the original approval granted to the company “CamelBak” during the presentation of this technical innovation in 2000. • Moreover, it will be mandatory for all riders who want to use a camelback system to present it to the commissaires before the start of the race at the risk of being disqualified.

Most of this seems to have been brought to a head because of the perceived aerodynamic advantage (I say perceieved as I’ve not read any of the benefits on mounting it to the front of the rider) when Frank used it on the front. I remember there was some noise when Bobby J started using them while riding at CSC. I think Dave Z might have used one around the same period, but my memory is a little hazy and I may be getting confused.


In some regards I am pleased that there hasn’t been a total ban on the use, as I think in a TT where the rider is looking to hold an aero position having a feeding tube close to their mouth will actually be a little safer than a bottle as it allows the rider to remain in control on a bike which is twicthier than a normal road machine. If we think about the 3:1 ratio that is often quoted in regards to aerodynamics, surely some sort of measure needs to be applied as a 0.5 litre bladder will hold a different shape on a larger/taller rider to a smaller/slimmer one. It sounds in many ways not too dissimilar to the 6.8kg rule on bikes where there can be benefits to riders of different stature.





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