Olympic triathlon loses bike manufacturers

Written by By Staff Writer This story first appeared in CNN International’s New York bureau With barely a month to go before the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the city’s most renowned…

Olympic triathlon loses bike manufacturers

Written by By Staff Writer

This story first appeared in CNN International’s New York bureau

With barely a month to go before the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the city’s most renowned race faces near total withdrawal and controversy.

Known as the Rio Bicycle Classic, the triathlon event has competed internationally for more than 20 years and was last held in April 2014.

Despite the fact that the event is restricted to participants aged 14-64, local education authorities announced in April that “competitors who reach the semifinals will require reading glasses.”

Athletes are given reading glasses before entering the bike riding area, with the reading glasses being replaced at the finish line.

Race Director Jaques Gratton says there are no privacy concerns about allowing competitors to compete in the glasses.

“We are talking about people who are competing at a very high level,” says Gratton. “It is very important for people to know that you can read the information on the helmet, which is really important, in order to be a good triathlete.”

But during the upcoming race, which begins on July 30, the lightweight blue and white bikes that sport names such as Motivate and Sprint, will be disqualified from competition.

The bicycle manufacturing company Garmin International has sued the race organizers because the new rule was imposed more than six months before it takes place. The full merit of the lawsuit has not been made public.

“They changed the rules 15 days before our competition starts,” says Christian Francois, vice president of sales and marketing at the bike manufacturer. “It’s not fair. The rules must be approved by the government before we go ahead and we never received that approval.”

Race officials declined to be interviewed on the record, but told CNN they “take the safety of our athletes very seriously.”

The bike makers say the rule preventing their blue and white bicycles from racing would leave 18 athletes from around the world looking for their competitors’ equipment for the Velodrome race.

The lawsuit reads: “There is no direct legal basis or legitimate reason which permits the imposition of such a restriction, although the sponsors of the Bicycle Classic … have, by the end of this race, gained an upper hand over the remaining contenders and thereby substantially made possible the opportunity for every competitor not using Garmin to find and buy the right equipment for the next stage of competition…

“Allowing the cyclists who make it to the top 12 to finish the Cycle Race without purchasing or borrowing other cyclists’ equipment is a very difficult and expensive proposition for both the sponsors of the Bicycle Classic and the athletes.”

For the majority of athletes, this is the first time they’ve competed in the event, with a majority of competing countries yet to take part.

“This is the first triathlon I’ve ever competed in,” 25-year-old Daniel Cuccione, who’s from Pata Maria, Brazil, says. “It’s a big opportunity, for me and my country.”

He plans to meet up with his friends and family to watch him compete.

Still, some cyclists like 38-year-old Juliana Otte from the neighboring Brazilian state of Bahia, say the writing was on the wall.

“I’ve been training hard to prepare for the race since April,” she says. “It’s been a great experience and a lovely race, but the race’s moved (elsewhere).”

Amanda May, a doctor from Utah, says she went to the race on condition the bike manufacturers remained a competitor.

“As a physician and triathlete I’m always looking for more ways to train for a triathlon,” she says. “There aren’t many sporting events offering that opportunity that don’t require the use of specialized equipment. When we learned there was a new rule change with this one we needed to rethink our participation.”

At last year’s event, more than 160 athletes competed. The race, which finishes at the famous Carioca Terra Aquatic Park, has been run for more than 30 years and was in Rio’s state capital Belo Horizonte for more than 20 years.

In 2015 the race was relocated to nearby Varginha, in northern Rio de Janeiro.

Glenn Shaughnessy, a professor of communications at Georgetown University who writes about sports business and the Olympics, says the move to the suburbs was part of a movement toward privatizing sport events and keeping profits away from sports associations.

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