We Are Not Animals

We Are Not Animals

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Of all people, a Velominatus knows that our sport is a civilized one; it is steeped in tradition and etiquette and rife with unwritten rules. High on the list of unwritten rules are those that outline acceptable behavior when various hardships befall the leader of a Grand Tour. One of the reasons such rules exist is due to the brutally difficult nature of our sport; in the context of stage races where crashes and mechanical incidents are a part of daily life and can have a major impact on the competitive landscape, such conventions and agreements form a foundation in the quest to find the winner of the events through athletic, tactical, and strategic superiority while minimizing the impact that misfortune may have on the final outcome. The Golden Rule in this case is that riders are never to attack the race leader when they suffer a crash or mechanical incident.

At the Giro d’Italia, on Stage 7 over the Strada Bianchi, the race leader Vincenzo Nibali crashed and was left to struggle behind.  The question was raised then, why did the leaders not wait for Nibali, the fallen Maglia Rosa, to rejoin before continuing to race? One reason might be that Nibali wasn’t considered a legitimate threat to take the final win.  Another reason was that the race was on in full force and as such there were too many riders already attacking at the moment of the crash.  Justified or not, the sportsmanlike thing to do would be to wait. They didn’t, and in the end it had little impact on the result (the winner, Ivan Basso, was also held up in the crash), but a small bit of our accepted etiquette died with the decision to continue on.

Today at the Tour de France, we saw a similar situation where the Brother Grimpeur the Younger distanced rival Alberto Contador before a mechanical eventually saw him lose his Yellow Jersey.  Schleck had to stop to right his dropped chain, and while he did so, Contodor came by him and pushed his advantage home, all the way to the finish.  In the end, Schleck lies a few seconds behind Bertie, and in truth the 30 second lead he had before the incident was likely not enough to win the Tour. Indeed, little has changed in the reality we face in the coming days: Andy must attack Contador if he is to win this year’s Tour.

One thing that has changed, however, is that Contador has proven something I have long suspected: he is a rider whose ambition to win is greater than his sense of sportsmanship.  Marko has written in these archives about the A.C. Enigma and his ambivalence towards this rider.  Bertie has given us little reason to love him, aside from his blistering accelerations up the steepest grades in the mountains.  He has also given us little reason to hate him, for we know little about him. For me, the greatest riders are those who perhaps do not win often, but they lose with class and dignity, and they fight. Riders who display dignity and respect for the sport and fellow athletes in the midst of dishing out huge helpings of  Rule #5 is what endears a rider to this particular heart. Jan Ullrich is the prime example of this; his sportsmanship on the slopes of Luz Ardiden in the face of an opportunity to win the 2003 Tour is unmatched.   Even after spending year after year being beaten by Armstrong into second place; he still had the overriding sense of sportsmanship to wait and resist pushing home the advantage when Armstrong crashed.

In our sport, a champion is one who holds the unwritten rules of conduct in higher regard than a trophy.  These are the athletes who understand that the very manner in which they set about achieving their results will be woven into the fabric of their career and weigh more heavily than the golden trophies of their victories.

At the end of the day, little has been decided in the outcome of the Tour.  The one thing that has been determined is that Alberto Contodor is not a true champion, for he would rather win another Tour de France than show his fellow colleagues (not to mention the fans of this sport) the opportunity to discover who is the strongest through head-to-head competition. Alberto Contodor has shown his true colors as a great rider for whom winning is more important than sportsmanship.

Tomorrow will dawn with a renewed opportunity for Andy Schleck to also show his true colors.  Will he protect his second place and race conservatively into Paris, or will he rise up to fight and try to win the Tour despite today’s setback?  I have a feeling that we are about to be treated to the latter.  I certainly hope so.

Alberto Contador did not need to wait today.  But he should have, for ours is a civilized sport, and we, fellow cyclists, are not animals.

// Etiquette // Tradition

  1. @Souleur
    You know how when you read the posts at this site and you use your “Outside Voice” to holler everyone’s screen name and then mutter along outloud in what you assume to be their voice or at least their accent as you read what they have to say as your rush to come up with something witty to reply with?

    Yeah, so, whenever I see your screen name, I yell out in my best obnoxious French accent, “SOU-LAY-RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRAH!”

    Good to have you back, but no one in the two adjoining offices will feel the same way.

  2. @Souleur
    Oh – and now that I’ve finished reading your post – you’ve touched on an important bit: what role did the DS play in this? No doubt Andy was acting on orders from the car, and for certain the Astana DS knew what was happening. It’s an interesting detail.

    To be a fly on the faux-wood paneling inside any of those Skodas. One thing is for sure, as Paul said, AC was acting out of panic more than anything else. And Andy should remember that.

  3. @frank
    What did Merckx do on the stage to Marseille?

  4. frank: thanks and you have an interesting take on ‘souleur’

    I just tried to take a screen name, make it mine and own it. So…as a Rouleur in the saddle, who is also a fundamental Cognoscenti at heart, I wanted to wear a deeply seeded virtuous name reflecting this…so…’Souleur’ it was.

  5. @Seth


  6. Contador is a weasel – that was no way to take the yellow jersey. He saw what was going on and took advantage of it. That was lame.

    If he does win the Tour, it better be by minutes – otherwise its a tainted yellow jersey.

  7. @Dan O
    More a lemon jersey than a yellow one…

  8. You blokes are kidding yourselves. Just because Schleck has a bit of personality, he gets a separate set of “benefit of the doubt” rules. He was given a life by Contador on Stage 2. He then attacked the fuck out of Contador who was stuck behind someone else’s crash (not anything to do with him in the least) on Stage 3.

    Schleck’s gear change leading to a slipped chain was amateur hour. His inability to put it on for half a minute or more was first-time-on-a-bike hour. He can bleat on about revenge and respect all he wants. He is a whining piece of shit who is happy to attack people hit by problems outside of their control, but moans when it happens to him. He was at least partially in control of the situation. There are not separate rules for cobbles and hills, and nor should there be. The Tour de France is a bike RACE. Not some hand holding let’s be friends hand shake affair. Yellow Jersey or not, he is expecting everyone else to subscribe to Andy’s rules, which are “play fair towards me, and I’ll do the same.”

    I hope Contador pins him to the wall tomorrow on the Tourmalet. He is by far the best bike rider in the race, and has handled this with grace, as he handled Schleck attacking him on Stage 3: it’s bike racing.

    Lance was flipped over the front of his bars going up a hill. This was clearly something well outside of his control, and Ullrich slowed for him. Totally different circumstance to a bloke not managing to keep his own chain on his own bike.

  9. @Hawkeye
    You’re right about it being a bike race; the only thing you’ve got wrong here is that it wasn’t a flubbed gear change – it was a nasty fluke. Here’s a pretty interesting article by Zinn (with whose frame fit theories I disagree with) talking about what might have happened:

    I also think it’s interesting that up until this week, everyone blamed Spartacus for getting everyone to wait for the Schlecks, but now Contador is taking credit for it because it benefits him. Stage 3 was a different scenario, though, with the race and the attack already well under way and people falling off because of it, ala Merckx in ’71. That Bertie was stuck behind the crash had less to do with misfortune and more to do with being too far back in the group.

    I do have to say that either way, Bertie has handled this gracefully; the YouTube apology was a class act, and something I hope we start seeing more of. Cavendish should watch that video and take some notes. And, he didn’t do anything wrong; he just didn’t behave in a sportsmanlike way. He could have been a Legend, but instead, there’s a big question mark.

  10. @Frank
    My sentiments exactly. Bertie does seem to get the credit here for Faboo’s act. And as far as the cobbles go isn’t that the point of the cobbles? You have to be placed right to be successful and everyone knew what was going to happen on that stage. It was the one true wild card that could have helped the pharmer. He wouldn’t have waited, Bertie nor AS waited for him on that stage, it was all fair on the cobbles.

    Hell, even Vino slowed for AS until Bertie caught up and kept on rolling. I like that it has been spinned that he was counterattacking at the moment…. he was simply in panic mode.

  11. @frank
    Fair dues. He didn’t screw up on the bike. He did go on like a pork chop off it though, and he only has the opportunity to be bleating about losing the yellow jersey on the back of the generosity of his opponents earlier in the race.

    I think Stage 2 had a lot of GC hitters crapping their pants wondering what the feck just happened, and Faboo shutting the race down was an easy solution for them to take, especially when they were probably so thankful to get back onto the bunch. Bertie (and Good Cadel in particular (he didn’t bite it from memory and was right up the front), and Armstrong, and a couple of others) DID choose to not attack further though once they’d shaken themselves off. And it was sporting of them. How many chances does one dude get in a race?

    Would Schmuck have done the same if it was Drac asking people to wait for Bertie? I doubt it. Faboo would have been gleefully charging off after Chavanel to defend his jersey whilst carrying the brothers Schmuck in his wake.

    In the end it matters not. My money’s on Bertie giving young Schmuck a lesson in bike riding tomorrow after he’s already given him one in class. And then rubbing it in on the TT by well over a minute.

  12. “If you draw your sword and you drop it, you die.” – Ryder Hesjedal regarding Shleck’s dropped chain and Cantador’s attack.


  13. @Hawkeye

    Would Schmuck have done the same if it was Drac asking people to wait for Bertie? I doubt it. Faboo would have been gleefully charging off after Chavanel to defend his jersey whilst carrying the brothers Schmuck in his wake.

    Well, that’s just speculation. But, it’s feasible. I think all of them would have wait, but the only fact we actually have is that they did wait, and at this point it’s becoming unclear whose idea it was and what others would have done.

    @Salsa_Lover, @Hawkeye

    “If you draw your sword and you drop it, you die.” – Ryder Hesjedal regarding Shleck’s dropped chain and Cantador’s attack.

    Touché. More from the whole waiting game, from Mediocre Cadel:

    If we waited every time something went wrong, we’d still be at stage 3 by now, waiting for someone to adjust their underpants.


    But lets not loose sight of the fact that we’re not talking about G.C. favorites waiting for one another any time a crash happens. We’re talking about the tradition of never attacking the Maillot Jaune when they crash or have a mechanical.

  14. @Hawkeye I like to think that Spartacus has more class than that.

  15. @frank

    frank I agree with you wholeheartly, about tradition, honour, class and all.

    But, in this particular event, there was no crash nor mechanical.

    Andy just went to attack on the wrong gear, clumsily droped the chain and then freaked out for 30 seconds.

    he simply brought it on himself.

    Conti could have been generous and wait for him, I agree this would have been a beautiful beau geste.

    But is is a race and they are there to win it.

  16. For the past year or so, I have had the odd sense that Cadel Evans is becoming the new Jan Ullrich. I know some other site RKP stated something like this, but he really has eaten a couple servings of Rule #5 lately ; while never talking shit about his team like he used to (even if his old/new team was helping/slacking). Even with the World Jersey, he still follows Rule #67 and respects the efforts of his team.

    He has gained respect from me lately. Hell, for all we know, he may become the next Poulidor.

  17. @Nathan Edwards
    I reckon you don’t dominate a peloton of pro riders through class! Reckon it’s more a mixture of front and… sounds like punt…

  18. Sorry if this has been mentioned before, but does Passage du Gois mean anything to anyone? Cyclingnews.com reported it as those teams in the front group put the hammer down to maximise their gains. Four GC contenders lost over six minutes that day.

    A bit of perspective is required here. It’s a fucking race. By all means when the peloton is rolling along don’t attack if the MJ has a problem, but if the race is on then all’s fair.

    A lot of current Pro cyclists would struggle with the word “sportsmanship” given the era they raced through and the things they got up to.

  19. Another good piece. It was a strange thing. I believe that the initial actions could be forgiven, the art of war and all that. However thanks to the modern age of racing, radios and all, it would have been apparent what the situation was. In the tradition of Le Tour that group should gave waited for Yellow.

    It is tradition like this that’s makes this more than a race.

  20. Salsa_Lover :
    “If you draw your sword and you drop it, you die.” – Ryder Hesjedal regarding Shleck’s dropped chain and Cantador’s attack.

    Outstanding quote. I had not seen this one before. Ryder is an up-and-coming Rock Star!

  21. @Buck Rogers
    Funny, I met @Geoffrey Grosenbach the other day for a ride and he Schlecked his chain in kind of a tight bend in a climb, right where you’d expect to drop from the big ring into the little ring.

    Then the next day I was on that same route on my rain bike and did the exact same thing.

    Dropping your chain sucks ass on a training ride. It sucks even more ass if it causes you to lose the Tour. I’m installing chain catchers on all bikes.

  22. @frank

    Absoltuely, and I do not want to rehash this whole thing as you all already had a great discussion on it but I think the best quote that summed up the whole mess the best was the one posted earlier by pakrat “Cervélo team owner Gerard Vroomen had this to say on Twitter: “Contador just gained a great chance to win, but he lost the chance to win greatly.” Pretty much will be what I remember about the 2010 tdf, even is Clentador goes down for the doping.

  23. @all
    And so the issue as to whether or not Bertie was aware of the situation going on when Andy Schlecked his chain, in Contador’s own words to Riis the night of the incident:

    I’m sorry about the situation. I attacked and went. Hope you understand


  24. @frank
    I just read that as well. Then Riis told him to apologize and he did. Sack up Bertie and own your shit. No more Enigma for me. Firmly a COTSHO (second highest order). And quit mother-henning shit Riis and get a team together.

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