TDF Stage 15

19 Jul

Today was an unfortunate day in the Tour de France.  Regardless of whether you favor Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador, it is unfortunate that a mechanical problem was the deciding factor in which rider now wears the yellow jersey.

If you love the race more than you favor any one rider, which I do, then you want the riders alone to decide the outcome.  Just as lovers of the Tour do not want unfair advantage gained by riders through drugs – a rider should not take the yellow jersey through unfair means or misfortune of a rival.

It is also unfortunate that we were deprived of seeing the race tactics of Schleck and Contador play out.  Those tactics had just started when Schleck launched an attack against Contador and then the mechanical occurred.

Moreover, there is an unwritten code of honor – basic tenets – that professional cyclists compete by.  The most basic of which are:

  • You don’t take advantage of someone’s bad luck
  • It is bad form to win because of another rider’s misfortune.

There are plenty of examples in Tour de France history where this basic code was followed.  One of the most memorable was in the 2003 Tour:

When Lance Armstrong was caught in the handle of a fan’s bag, his closest rival, Germany’s Jan Ullrich, who had trailed Armstrong by only 15 seconds at the day’s start, slowed to wait for Armstrong to pick himself up and get back in the race.

To many U.S. sports fans, casual watchers of this extraordinary bike race, what happened (also Stage 15) caused a collective “huh?” But to Ullrich, who as a result fell to 1 minute 7 seconds behind Armstrong, speeding off while Armstrong was on the ground would have been wrong.

Ullrich said, “Of course, I would wait.  If I would have won this race by taking advantage of someone’s bad luck, then the race was not worth winning.”

Two years before, Armstrong waited on Ullrich when the German crashed on a mountain descent. “There’s always been a predictable code of honor,” said Bob Roll, four-time rider in the Tour and Tour commentator for Versus.
“When you ride with the same people for three weeks of a Tour or a whole season, it is a matter of respect. You don’t take advantage of someone’s bad luck.”

Contador says that he did not know that Schleck had suffered a mechanical problem, we will never know whether that is true.  It is hard to believe that he did not know that Schleck had incurred some type of problem when Schleck did not follow.  Most importantly perhaps, Contador took the yellow jersey under very bad circumstances.  If he goes on to win the Tour de France this year, Contador’s victory will be suspect and will be tainted with bad feelings.

That is unfortunate for him, Andy Schleck and the Tour de France.

Update:  Pictures that show the Schleck Attack Sequence, frame by frame.

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