When Annemiek van Vleuten looks back on the 2022 World Championships in years to come, she might never work out exactly how she managed to win another world title – especially with a fractured elbow. She might also wonder what she was thinking with such high socks, a visual distraction from one of the sport’s greatest riders greatest moments.
The UCI mandates that “socks and overshoes used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head.” Annemiek van Vleuten’s socks were attracting the attention of many of those watching the race, and it seems they didn’t escape the eagle eye of the UCI either. Following the race, the sport’s governing body handed its newest World Champion a 200 CHF fine for the infringement.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
The issue with taller socks is twofold. First, it looks, well, non-traditional. But more importantly, aero socks are repeatedly touted as offering genuine aero advantages, and the taller the aero socks, the greater the gain.
As is often the case, the UCI’s rules and regulations are less than clear on the matter. Perhaps the UCI, like some of us, just don’t like the look of tall socks – but officially, it states the ruling is to ensure “a fair height between riders.” Here lies the first issue with what appears to be another clumsily written regulation. The halfway point between fibula head and lateral malleolus will vary from rider to rider, and greatly between taller and shorter riders. As such, the UCI seemingly misses that “fair height” they crave.
Secondly, what penalties apply for overstepping the sock rule is also unclear. From what we can assess, a commissaire could have prohibited Van Vleuten from starting with the high socks, had they been spotted and measured before the start. Once on the road, penalties at the commissaire’s disposal range all the way up to disqualification or elimination.
The official communique from the commissaire panel in Wollongong indicates Van Vleuten received a CHF 200 fine as per article 1.3.033 for “maximum height of socks.” This is despite the fact that the regulations do not explicitly mention fines – only various forms of exclusion. While we are not suggesting Van Vleuten should have been disqualified, it is another example of clumsily worded regulations.
Socks aside, attentive viewers may have also spotted Van Vleuten’s jersey appearing a little off and poorly fitting. Van Vleuten had, in fact, started the race in a skinsuit, but reports suggest commissaires forced her to add a short sleeve jersey over the suit mid-race due to a design difference between Van Vleuten’s suit and that of her teammates. This clothing rule infringement brought a further 500 CHF fine for the eventual winner.
If the enforced kit change is true, one must assume the commissaire on site took the more logical step of asking Van Vleuten to replace the clothing, rather than sticking strictly to the rules which suggest disqualification as one recourse. That said, one must also question why said commissaire didn’t also enforce the sock rule and have Van Vleuten adjust the height mid-race.
And what’s the deal with those tall socks? Well, there’s quite a bit more to them than just their height – something that we’ll report on soon. But for now, if we’re just sticking to the facts before us:
Did van Vleuten benefit from the aerodynamic gains of the higher socks? Almost certainly. Were you saying gains worth the 200 CHF penalty? Certainly. Do the socks take away from a remarkable victory? I’d argue no. However rules are rules, and unequal enforcement makes things confusing for everyone.