It is a competition, not a gentlemanly ride around France

Alistair Nitz Roar Rookie

By Alistair Nitz, Alistair Nitz is a Roar Rookie

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    It has taken exactly one Grand Tour for cycling’s so-called ‘unwritten rules’ to be thrust back into the headlines.

    It seems that some riders of the peloton have learnt nothing from the Giro d’Italia that finished only months before.

    The controversy this time involved an attack by Fabio Aru during Stage 9 at the same time Chris Froome had a mechanical and required a bike change. The attack was short-lived as it was quickly shut down by Richie Porte and others. In fact, it appeared that when Porte caught up to Aru, he told him to show some respect for the yellow jersey.

    An admirable act at the time by Porte, given that Froome was his main rival.

    Again the unwritten rules came into focus at a Grand Tour. According to these rules, riders must wait for the rider wearing the yellow jersey if they have a mechanical, crash or some other misfortune.

    Porte and other riders enforced the rule to nullify Aru’s attack.

    Aru naturally told waiting journalists that he did not see Froome put up his hand to indicate he had a mechanical. It did not stop the finger pointing. Froome later told journalists “we will have to see what Aru has to say about it”.

    He also said “I’ll certainly ask him about it when I see him.”

    While Froome was said to be downplaying the incident, other riders were not impressed with the unsportsmanship behaviour shown by Aru. Porte commented that, “this isn’t the moment to attack the yellow jersey when he’s changing his bike”. Simon Yates also told journalists after the stage “I think it’s a dirty move. I don’t like what he did but it’s a bike race and he can do what he wants.”

    As the media storm brewed after Stage 9, I started to think that the riders forgot what happened to Tom Dumoulin at the Giro d’Italia. Riders attacked him when he had a violent attack of diarrhoea and stopped for a nature break while he was wearing the pink jersey.

    Vincenzo Nibali summed it up well after the Dumoulin incident when he said, “I’m very straightforward. I never expect anybody to wait for me when I stop. Many times, I’ve fallen or punctured and just set off again.”

    There are countless other examples where riders have attacked the leader when they had a mechanical fault, such as Alberto Contador’s attack on Andy Schleck during the 2010 Tour.

    So why did Aru have to defend his tactics or actions? It is a competitive bike race.

    These unwritten rules came into effect at a time when cycling races were amateur or the prize money was almost non-existent. The sport has changed significantly since then.

    Now the prize money is substantial for the rider that finishes at the top of the podium (€500,000 winners purse in 2017). Winning sets up the rider financially for the rest of their career. In addition, some of the prize money is also distributed to the rest of the team, including riders and team personnel.

    Chris Froome

    (Source: Team Sky)

    To win a Grand Tour requires a superhuman effort. A rider must withstand significant mental pain and physical stress on their bodies. Their cycling equipment needs to endure all types of conditions.

    They need to prove they are the best rider, the fastest rider and also the rider with the best equipment. But that is not all, they have to stay healthy for three weeks and keep their bike upright in different conditions.

    The final descent into Chambéry on Stage 9 illustrated the importance of having good bike handling skills, after several riders came down in treacherous conditions.

    Secondly, cycling seems to be the only sport that requires participants to wait for the race leader when they have a mechanical or a crash. Have you ever seen a Formula One or a Supercars race where competitors circle the course slowly while the leader returns to the pits to get a new car after a mechanical fault or crash?

    The answer is no because to win the race you need the perfect car setup as well as being a very good driver. In fact, race teams employ the best engineers to help get an advantage over other teams regarding car step up.

    So if it does not happen in motor racing, why does it continue to persist in cycling? Also, why do only some riders enforce this rule?

    It is time to banish this unwritten rule to the rubbish bin once and for all. Cycling’s governing body need to interject and outlaw the behaviour to provide certainty to riders when this situation arises in future races.

    There is clear evidence that not all riders follow the rule and they will attack the leader. Just like Aru did. And before him Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Ilnur Zakarin at the Giro. Riders should not be placed at a disadvantage all because the race leader has some type of mishap.

    Others will think that this practice is unsportsmanlike. But team leaders are not protected like this in one-day races. So why should Grand Tours be any different?

    The team leader does, after all, have eight other riders in their team to support them in their quest to return to the peloton.

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    The Crowd Says (10)

    • Roar Rookie

      July 12th 2017 @ 6:29am
      Chancho said | July 12th 2017 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      I’m never a fan of more rules or regulations… these guys are big boys and can sort this stuff out between themselves.

      My view on these unwritten rules comes from a viewpoint of good and bad sportmanship or Karma even…. the leader is not in a position to defend himself so should not be attacked. In terms of this particular incident is that I don’t see anything wrong in what Aru did, except for lying about not noticing Froome put his hand up (Aru was right behind Froome when it happened). The reason I didn’t see a problem with it in this case is that Aru wouldn’t have known what was up, for all he knew Froome may have been communicating with his team for a drink or food, so fair game.

      I guess what you don’t want to do is get to a situation where riders are strategically ‘crying wolf’… they all know the race maps and will have a good idea when attacks might happen. In the early stages of this Tour Froome was involved in a crash, nothing major but he got back to the peleton, but then drifted back to see the medics… even the comentators said that he probably didn’t need it but it’s a precaution. Now, in this scenario, say he’s in Yellow and he’s off seeing the medics so you wouldn’t attack, but his voulantary actions are potentially stopping any attacks.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Gurudoright said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      I get the whole ethos of gentlemanly but why is the yellow jersey so protected? An honest question as I don’t know the answer, would someone like Simon Yates who is sitting in 7th spot in the GC 2:02 behind Froome be afforded the same respect if he was hit with mechanical problems? If so at what point is someone worthy or not worthy of stopping?

      • July 12th 2017 @ 7:45pm
        Alistair Nitz said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:45pm | ! Report

        I can’t say how long that it has been in place for, except for a long time. Richard Moore talks about it in his book about Slaying the Badger. if Simon Yates was wearing the yellow jersey at the time everyone would slow down for him if he stopped for a nature break. But being in seventh place and 2.02 down, you can forget about it. It is up to his team to bring him back to the peloton.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 9:21am
      Big Steve said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      I find it interesting they have so many mechanical breakdowns. For bikes that pretty much get rebuilt or at least a major service every night, what keeps braking on all these bikes? And why do they get so many punctures, if they ran tyres with more puncture protection they wouldn’t get so many. I don’t see how if someone chooses to use a faster tyre that punctures easily to get an advantage people should have to wait for them when they predictably get a puncture.

      The person they should have waited for was Dan Martin when Porte took him out. Will probably miss the podium now through no fault of his own.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 11:47am
      Gary L said | July 12th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

      Even in the drug fuelled days of Lance the yellow jersey was protected….Jan Ulrich waited for Lance when Lance was brought diwn by a bag

      • July 12th 2017 @ 7:32pm
        Alistair Nitz said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:32pm | ! Report

        You could argue that Jan was only repaying the favour from either the year before or a couple of years before when Lance waited for Jan to recover from a crash if I recall correctly.

      • July 12th 2017 @ 8:16pm
        TonyM said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

        Gary thats no way to refer to Oprah !

    • July 12th 2017 @ 2:19pm
      Andrew Browne said | July 12th 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

      No protection for the Yellow if there is no protection for anyone else and there isn’t. Is this a holdover from Bernard Hinault and his dictatorial ways?

      • July 12th 2017 @ 7:35pm
        Alistair Nitz said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

        In the past I agreed with the respect of the yellow jersey. My view has shifted significantly the other way. It is a competition after all.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 5:28pm
      RGRHON said | July 12th 2017 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

      I think you have to view this tradition from the viewpoint of the yellow jersey. To be in that position you have to put yourself on the line every stage. It’s not a car race, you’re physically exhausted all the time. It’s respect. If dropped during a stage due to mech, you could lose the whole race, and you’re unlikely to ever catch up. This is a team sport, but more than that it’s a peloton effort. The peloton has rules to respect its members. Also, every sport has traditions. Most team sports congratulate each other on a good game at the end. The Stage races just have different traditions. Cycling is more dog-eat-dog than most sports, but the win is sacred, and not taken lightly. And if you think the sport doesn’t need to be humanized by some traditions, consider that you don’t even see people stop when someone rides over a cliff! It’s about saying hey, you’re our lead and we respect that, and we do care about each other as a group even though we know some of us will die doing this! When we pay respect, we mean it, and when someone dies, we’re all about that too.

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