Smith: I want MTN Qhubeka to be completely open with data

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MTN Qhubeka’s general manager Brian Smith has said that he is open to sharing as much information as possible with fans and others, saying that he wants the team to be open and transparent.

Smith is about to head to South Africa for the team’s first training camp in advance of the 2015 season, a year when he hopes that it will ride both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. He talked about the new approach he wants the team to follow, giving access and information whenever possible.

“This team is about bringing the fun back into cycling. You know what it is like – you go and try to get access to teams and buses, and you can’t really get access,” he told CyclingTips. “We want to try to create a team that is a friendly one. Think back to the old days when we were getting changed in team cars; you could just rock up and see the riders. That is what people come to races for, not just to see them zoom past.

“We are thinking of different ways to engage. We are thinking of a new media fan-based idea, to have open data. The UCI are starting to let in cameras. We are very open to all the data, anything to encourage the fans to engage more with cycling.

“Too many teams are like, ‘we don’t want to give that information, that is classified.’ And any time there is an accident or someone crashes and they have an injury, they say ‘he is fine, he is feeling good.’ That is all bullshit. I want cycling to open up, tell the truth. Why play games?”

Smith accepts that the UCI will have to give the green light for some of this sharing, but hopes that it will agree to do so.

“We would love the UCI to allow us to give data out during the races when the guys are actually riding – GPS, everything like that, if we can get the platform to be able to give that data…. Think about Formula One; the screen comes up with the stats and various other things about how the guys are going, what kilometres an hour, what gear he is in, the tyre wear and all that sort of stuff.”

While the nature of the data released would differ from Formula One – tyre wear is not a factor in a bike race, for example – Smith uses that example to give an idea of the flow of information it is possible to impart with the right technology and setup.

Traditionally cycling has been reluctant to share extensive information, due in part to a fear of rivals being able to use that data to inform their own tactics.

More recently sport scientists, journalists and some fans have called on teams to disclose data in order to show if performances are credible. While there is an ongoing debate about the validity of this, volunteering information would show a degree of transparency.

Smith states that it would also provide a degree of entertainment at a time when the action is in a lull; this would in turn make the sport more attractive to viewers.

“We want to be the team that starts to give out all that sort of technology, because watching a four or five hour race is boring,” he said. “It starts fast, finishes fast, and what happens in the middle is unpredictable. There is a lot of information that can get out there.

“I’m even talking about putting cameras in the team cars and doing it live from there and not just putting it out five minutes later. We are open to anything; we are open to cameras in the buses, cameras in the races, we are open to data during the races, anything like that.

“If the UCI allow it, then I think we have got a technology partner in Samsung that would like to maybe step in and provide that information.”

Smith previously raced as a professional with the Motorola team and others, and is a former British road race champion. He has worked with the Cervélo Test Team, NetApp Endura and Endura Racing.

He was manager of the latter in the year Jonathan Tiernan Locke was red flagged over his biological passport, but has denied any knowledge of doping by the rider. Tiernan Locke was handed a two year ban this year by the UCI. Smith is adamant that neither he nor the team had any reason to believe the Briton was taking banned substances.

MTN Qhubeka became the first African team to ride a Grand Tour this year when it lined out in the Vuelta a España. It has made a number of important signings for 2015, including the sprinters Matt Goss, Theo Bos and Tyler Farrar plus the all rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Smith recently spoke in detail about those aspirations plus the more aggressive, uninhibited racing style he wants the team to follow next year. That interview can be read here.

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