Opinion: Waiting in bike races; a strange practice only for the elite

Posted on: July 10th, 2017

Waiting in bike races; a strange practice

Fabio Aru on the front as Chris Froome was chasing back on during yesterday’s stage 9 of the Tour de France.

 

Waiting in bike races; a strange elitist practice

 


By Cillian Kelly

Publisher, Irish Peloton


I blame Lance Armstrong.

No, not for the doping problems in the sport of cycling, although he still has a lot to answer for.

I blame Lance Armstrong for all of the indignation caused when the rider wearing the Yellow Jersey has a crash or a mechanical, and someone decides to attack.

We saw it on the recent Stage Nine of the Tour de France on the Mont du Chat when Chris Froome clearly put his hand up to indicate he needed help from the following team car.

The Italian Fabio Aru nipped under Froome’s armpit and launched the first significant attack of the day among the main Tour contenders.

Cue the uproar.

‘It’s a disgrace! Aru has no class! What about the unwritten rules?! Aru should be ashamed of himself!’

It was up to a former team-mate Richie Porte to act as policeman and slow the group down to wait for Froome – to wait for the Yellow Jersey.

Porte’s logic was that you cannot take advantage of any misfortune befalling the wearer of the sacred Maillot Jaune. The unwritten rules of cycling had been followed.

Well perhaps somebody should write these unwritten rules down some time soon, because they are a lot different than they used to be.

And this waiting ‘tradition’ has spread from simply waiting for the yellow jersey.

There have been many occasions in recent years in which big names have, for example, crashed and other big names decide for everyone else that everyone else must wait.

 

Waiting in bike races; a strange practice

Waiting in bike races; a strange practice

Waiting in bike races; a strange practice

Fabio Aru was keen to keep moving. Froome said he would ask Aru when he saw him why he had attacked. Richie Porte told Aru to ease back and Dan Martin also appeared to have a word with the Italian.

 

Before we get to blaming Lance Armstrong for everything, let’s rewind back to the 1957 Giro d’Italia. Of course the jersey in that race is Pink, not Yellow.

But it was Pink too when Tom Dumoulin stopped for a dump at the side of the ride last May and that didn’t stop the unwritten rules police from sounding the alarm.

In 1957, before Stage 18 to Monte Bondone, the great Luxembourg climber Charly Gaul, wearing the Maglia Rosa, held a 56 second lead over the Italian rider Gastone Nencini, and a further 21 seconds over the triple Tour de France winner Louison Bobet.

Gaul and Bobet despised one another. On an innocuous stretch of road with still well over 100km to go, Bobet pulled over to the side of the road as though he needed to pee.

Gaul, seeing his rival do so, decided to take the opportunity to do the same, slightly further down the road. But Bobet was faking.

The race leader had fallen for the trap and started to pee, while Bobet got back on his bike and flew past Gaul who, not believing his eyes, performed the only act that seemed appropriate at the time.

He waved his willy in Bobet’s direction along with a choice few words.

Bobet didn’t care. The gap between himself and Gaul started to grow and grow and was almost eight minutes by the stage’s end.

Gaul had lost the Giro.

And because Nencini had stuck to Bobet’s wheel, it was he who ended up claiming the Maglia Rosa.

Accounts of that story vary. But let’s not let the truth get in the way of the matter at hand. The race leader was attacked while he was answering a call of nature. And that, in the 1950s, was racing.

Somewhere along the way cycling acquired these unwritten rules. Perhaps it’s a result of the relatively recent collective memory of the peloton.

The last great Tour patron that most current pro riders can probably remember is Miguel Indurain. As it happens, during Big Mig’s five Tour wins he did not have one crash or mechanical. Not one.

Then along came the next unstoppable Tour-winning machine which everyone in the current peloton remembers. And the blame for the current state of heightened righteousness begins at Luz Ardiden in 2003.

The climb where Armstrong snagged his handlebars on the child’s musette and fell over. Armstrong’s biggest rival, Jan Ullrich, was in the group ahead and he slowed the rest down and they waited.

It’s the most famous example of the application of the idea that one does not attack a fallen Yellow Jersey wearer.

And it is likely that most of the incidents since then have their logical justification rooted in the actions of Armstrong and Ullrich that day.

Ullrich didn’t have to do that. He was just being nice. Ullrich is a nice guy. He’s a doper. They all were. But he was a nice guy.

However since it was Ullrich who did the waiting, perhaps we should be blaming him rather than Armstrong.

The point is made though; waiting for the race leader, or knocking the pace off when some big names crash, is a relatively new phenomenon.

And it seems to be in the gift of the few to extend it to only the riders of their choosing and at a time of their choosing; quite a strange practice when one boils it down to its nuts and bolts.

 

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