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November 24, 2017
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  • Nowheresanidea

    If your good gear gains you time why shouldn’t your broken gear cost you time.



    • Andy Galloway

      Well said.

  • Aaron McNany

    Start taking away these gentleman’s rules and everything else that is ‘gentleman-ly’ about the sport will begin to erode with it.

    • James Huang

      I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be some sense of decorum in the sport. But equipment plays a far bigger role in modern racing than it once did, and there should be a difference between true bad luck vs. general mechanical failures.

      • David Bonnett

        Did Aru attack at that moment because that he felt that was the only way he could succeed? If not, why not show some class and wait?

        • James Huang

          Without being there, none of us outside observers can say without doubt what exactly Froome was calling for when he raised his arm. Maybe he just wanted a word with his DS? Maybe he wanted water? It’s not for me to speculate.

          • David Bonnett

            Fair enough. I suspect there wasn’t a lot of deep introspection happening in any of the riders’ heads at that point ;-)

        • jules

          riders dope to win and earn money. some of the same riders showing good sportsmanship are or have in the past probably doped. maybe Aru is just being transparent about his ambition to win at any cost? :)

        • Neuron1

          How did Aru know it was a mechanical and not Froome having a hunger knock and calling for some gels. Is he clairvoyant? Are you? From you couch did you instantly know CF was going to need a bike change? We have seen this before from Froome. If you bonk it’s your fault and the jersey shouldn’t protect you. Fulgsang said after the race that the plan from that morning was to attack at a predetermined point on the climb. Did Froome know about this and foil their plans? Once you open the door to”not attacking the jersey” the jersey can use it to their tactical advantage, as we have seen Froome do before.

          • Larry Theobald

            Yep, a slippery slope if racing comes to a halt when the race leader raises his hand. Nobody wants to see a deserving athlete let down by equipment failure but yet teams and the bike industry have no issues about trying to give their guys an equipment advantage, knowing failures will not likely cost them. Equipment choices might be different (and wouldn’t the consumer benefit?) if failure was more costly. This waiting around every time the race leader has any sort of issue takes away from the sport.

      • c-but

        Equipment plays a bigger role now than when riders had to do any and all repairs by themselves without any assistance of any kind? Dream on. Not a chance. Equipment plays a lesser role now with complete spare bikes on team cars and neutral support with wheels and bikes too.

    • will59

      Thanks to Team Sky, much of what is ‘gentleman-ly’ about the sport has already eroded. Froome spending kilometers pacing behind cars, bags of whatever being ferried to team buses, convenient bouts of asthma needing injections the day before grand tours. Imagine people getting upset with Vettel for leaving Hamilton behind after a blown tire.

  • Observer

    Spot on. Particularly when on so many occasions it only applies to the leader or the race favourite.

  • Il_falcone

    Rationally your brilliant analysis and arguments are spot-on, James. And being a rationalist and a strong proponent for durable equipment I personally agree with you. But you will certainly face a lot of fire from the traditionalists and advocates of “sportsmen behaviour”.
    Aru though, who of course saw Froome raising his hand, could have done it a little more clever by not visibly attacking right in that moment but sneaking his way to the front and flooring it from there while staying seated.

    • James Huang

      Thanks! And I’m clearly not afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

      • Chris

        …that’s the only point of this article. Ruffling feather, getting clicks.

        • James Huang

          Is it? I would argue otherwise. Because if the only thing I wanted to do was create controversy, there are plenty of other things I could written about.

          • Chris

            And you have.

            • James Huang

              I’m clearly not going to change your opinion, but in all honesty, all I’ve done here is present an opinion that I also feel is supported by well-formed arguments.

              • kamil krulis

                Yes you have.

        • Michele

          He sucked you in then ????

        • facespaz

          There’s a difference between “ruffling feathers” and bringing up a valid point that makes a sport we enjoy more enjoyable. Who wouldn’t have enjoyed more competition in the GC by having Froome actually pay the price for not putting fresh batteries in his bike? It was the biggest climb of the biggest stage of the Tour, so the race should’ve been considered “on” anyway because teams were likely aiming to attack around that area to gain time on Froome before he neutralized the race. I watch sports for competition, not to see the race leader be handed a win on a silver platter by ensuring him constantly ideal racing scenarios, and the point being made is that equipment affects performance.
          Example: Sky doesn’t wait a couple of seconds at the end of a Time Trial to make it fair to their opponents just because their suits are less wind resistant than the rest. It should go the other way as well if they chose their equipment poorly.
          Good article James, I was glad to see it written.

    • Tim Rowe

      Too much of cycling is ruined by things being ‘traditional’. It’s a sport run and rules by old white men who rarely allow in new blood (and when they do, it’s reluctantly), who frankly need to move on and let new and young ideas flourish rather than be held back just because “that’s how it was when I raced, an eternity ago”. Newsflash: Times change, things improve through change.

      • xrt15fzd

        I like the racial animus you inserted there. Really strengthened your argument.

    • Spencer Martin

      I would argue that the real ‘traditionalist’ would side with James. Nobody stopped for Eugene Christophe when he dipped into a blacksmiths to reforged his broken fork in the 1913 Tour. The tradition of rivals waiting for one another seems to be a fairly modern trend that was adopted during the Armstrong years.

  • Ryan M

    Stopping for a rival who suffers a mechanical or crash should be applauded as an act of extraordinary grace, not as complying to an expectation or unwritten “rule”. I agree that, since a bike race is a bike race, competitors should be free to compete for the win. If, in a given situation, a rider believes it inappropriate to take advantage of a rival’s mechanical incident, that should be celebrated as good sportsmanship, but there should be no expectation that they stop and wait – and no condemnation if they choose to press on.

    For example, in Stage 15 of the Giro this year, when Dumoulin neutralised the race after Quintana crashed, this was seen as good sportsmanship, but there was no expectation on Dumoulin to do so. If other riders had wished to press on at that point, putting Quintana under pressure, I believe there should have been no condemnation for doing so.

    One of the problems with taking respect for the leader’s jersey as an unwritten “rule” is that it’s arbitrary. Say, hypothetically, Chris Froome and Fabio Aru had been on the same time on GC coming into Stage 9, and say, again hypothetically, it was Aru who had the yellow jersey due to countback. It is completely arbitrary, in that situation, to say that if Aru had a mechanical, Froome and all other GC contenders should stop for him; but if Froome had a mechanical, everyone should be free to attack. This is especially ridiculous given there’s a time trial stage later in the race where Froome would be expected to take the yellow jersey. The fact that a rider is leading the race at a particular time shouldn’t make them deserving of an expectation of special treatment – but if rivals choose to extend them that favour, we can celebrate that as a classy act of sportsmanship.

    • Chris Thompson

      Well said and good points made.

  • Tim Rowe

    Being made to suffer the consequences of mechanical failure will cause manufacturers to ensure their equipment is more robust and of higher quality. This penalty for failure is good for the industry and product development.

    While we’re at it, road racing needs to end this ridiculous notion of different bikes for different stages, and even riders having multiple bikes. It’s one race – you get one bike. Having half a dozen bikes available just unnecessarily pushes up the expenses of teams – again, they need to learn about reliability. And this rubbish of having one completely incompatible bike for time trials, another for certain stages, maybe a crit bike for the last stage – that needs to end. Time Trial bikes have no place in a road race – if they’re going to continue with that ridiculous notion, then it’s time to put a MTB or CX stage in multi-stage tours. That has about as much place being there as a TT bike – which is none whatsoever.

    • Mark Johnston

      A time trial bike for a time trial stage seems OK to me.

    • robin

      ah yes, back to the stone ages we go.

    • Chris Thompson

      Hang on, a few posts ago you were saying that things change for the better and now you’re saying that the change that allowed TT bikes was wrong?

      And since when is a stage race with TTs a “road race”? It’s a road AND time trial event.

  • Jason Hess

    What if Froome signaled for the bike change not for a mechanical, but instead to:

    1) Slow the pace because he was struggling?
    2) Slow the pace because it was known to not be a favorable part of the climb for him?
    3) Slow the pace because it was known to be a part of the climb that favored Aru or some other rider?
    4) Slow the pace so he could switch bikes to a lighter bike?
    5) Slow the pace so he could switch bikes to one that had a mechanical assist?

    I do not know that any of these situations were the case, or if he did have a true mechanical issue. I do know that post bike change he took an amazingly bad line around a bend which led to Aru being reminded, again, of who is running the show.

    • kamil krulis

      Riders have brought that up.

    • David

      Any and all of your five points above could readily come from ‘Dave’s magic bag of marginal gains’.

  • Steve Reid

    I agree the equipment shouldn’t be an excuse for neutralising the race. With Froome in such a strong position there is an argument that the only way for anyone to challenge him is if they take advantage of the odd mechanical error. Also, who’s to say Froome wasn’t trying to manipulate the pace of the group by faking the issue? I’m a lot less interested in modern Stage racing than I used to be as they races are too predictable and frankly boring. I want to see riders at their limit fighting hard for wins bring on smaller teams and more mountain top finishes.

    • Paul Jakma

      Anquetil faked a mechanical problem in ’63, to switch to a special uphill bike. I.e., it is not at all unheard of for top riders to manipulate non-racing aspects of the sport to gain advantage.

  • Paul Jennings

    There’s no honour in winning as a result of someone else’s misfortune. And like it or not (and it seems mostly Americans that don’t like it – go figure) there are codes of conduct in the peloton that have been around for 100 years. Sure – it’s not standard in a ‘win at all costs’ Lance Armstrong supporting mindset – but it is what it is and it’s part of what makes our sport something more special. Let the riders uphold their integrity as they see fit – and if you don’t like it then feel free to move onto whatever other sport fits your outlook (maybe UFC)

    • James Huang

      I’m not saying that true bad luck should dictate the outcome of a race, and I’ve made explicit mention as such in the article. What I’m saying, however, is that equipment reliability/durability should be considered just as strongly as performance, and just as riders reap the benefits of risky choices to promote the latter, they should perhaps also suffer the consequences when those choices compromise the former.

    • Rodrigo Diaz

      It is tricky, for mechanicals in equipment pushing the limits of technology, reliability, or the rules themselves.

      The unwritten rules, although traditional, are very much living because their application is not consistent or indeed official. I do think this needs to evolve – say Froome’s bike stopped working because his Ossymetric chainset was giving him grief (I use non-round chainrings, they are definitely less stable and more prone to maladjustment than a standard, on-spec set). So what now? What if Bardet chose a 90 mm deep wheelset on a strong crosswind day for the aero advantage and crashes? What if someone chose the 20 mm tubular thinking it minimizes drag over a 28 mm set? Is all that misfortune

      By your same logic, if you don’t like someone else’s opinion in a cycling opinion piece you could move on to golf or another similarly gentlemanly activity. I would prefer let them race, although I understand the philosophy behind this – the application is uneven (the group would wait for Froome, but probably wouldn’t wait for Fulgsang, for example).

    • Derek Kirwan

      Its a reasonable point of view that winning as the result of someone else’s misfortune is not the same. It does assume that everything has to be perfect for everyone all of the time and this is not reasonable or possible. In sport as in life it’s sometimes about how you deal with an incident that show’s your quality. I don’t think a mechanical on a climb is a reason to wait for the leader or any other rider. It sucks for the person who has had the mechanical but that’s the teams fault for not setting the bike up to be robust enough to deal with the challenges of a tough stage.

      If Froome is upset with anyone it should be his team (not just the riders) who let him race with equipment that wasn’t good enough for the day.

      It doesn’t reflect well on Aru for sprinting off when he saw the hand go up and it doesn’t reflect well on Froome for dropping a shoulder as he caught back up.

      I don’t think they should have waited for Froome’s mechanical or any riders mechanical but I am less certain about what to do in a crash.

  • winkybiker

    100% agree with you James. The teams choose lightweight and complex equipment for the performance advantage. They should also bear the risks.

    • Tim Rowe

      We see the same thing in MTB – particularly DHI all the time – riders choose to run low, low pressures, and end up burping tyres. Noone forced them to try to run pressures so low, they attempted that risk to gain an advantage and in many cases it doesn’t pay off.

      Using lightweight, fragile equipment is no different. Here we have a sport where teams are adding weight artificially just to meet a weight requirement on equipment, when instead component manufacturers could move past shaving off grams and just make their stuff work reliably.

  • d;

    There’s no need to gentrify road cycling. I love it for what it is, unwritten rules, code of conduct and etiquette.

    I’m sure the reasons the yellow jersey is coveted include prestige, privileges, respect.

    • d;

      How can you get rid of unwritten (they virtually don’t exist) rules?

  • Andy Galloway

    Absolutely. There is a term useful here, from golf – ‘outside agency’ … you hit a ball and it hits a rock and pings off into thr next suburb? Bad luck, its part of the game … but if a magpie picks up your ball and flies with it and drops it in a creek? Thats truly not part of the game and you can replace your ball as close as you can to thr original place … equipment failure IS part of the cycling game, you break your bike – bad luck and build a better bike and get left behind like an amateur – maillot jaune or not. A crash like the famous Armstrong musette on Luz Ardiden could arguably be called an outside agency and this ‘etiquette’ can apply but not mandatory, as shown by Jan on the day … the other day Aru DID NOT break any UCI regulation even if he did see Froome’s mechanical … however Froome definitely broke UCI regulation regarding impeding another riders progress and unsportsmanlike behaviour when clearly shunts Aru into the crowd line as a message. I raced (and still do) track back in the pre-sanitized days so I know all about the language of hooks and chops … and Froome was talking out loud with that one … but to continue … did anyone eait for Cadel while he lost the Vuelta to a slooooow wheel change? When he lost pink in the Giro to a hunger flat? All part of the game – equipment, nutrition, training, skill and luck.
    And can we somehow get a handle on bike changes at sometime too?

  • Andy B

    He had to change bikes to get the one with the motor

    • d;

      Oh yes, of course it was the surge of power that made him veer into Fabio.

      • Andy B

        yes but purely by accident

  • Gordon Robertson

    the peloton takes care of itself regarding the unwritten traditions. If they want to get rid of it fine. Aru could keep going if he wanted just would not have help.

  • kamil krulis

    Great time to change bikes. Grab a break, and use civarly to advantage to neutralize. Well written piece.

    Ps. I hope there is a combine against Sky and BMC for the rest of Le Tour.

  • xyrandus

    Why don’t the UCI rewrite the rulebook so it makes sense, enforce it vigorously, not create ad hoc new rules when they feel like it and everyone can ignore anything about gentlemanlyness or other claptrap and just have RULES.

    • Tim Rowe

      There are many within the UCI that think the ‘rules’ are more like guidelines. And then there are others – both within the UCI and commissaires – who think that if they personally don’t like or agree with a rule, they can change it completely.

      We’ve had incidents where I’ve been race secretary at UCI races and we’ve been told, directly from the people at the top within UCI, adamantly, that we have to adhere to a particular rule around start order and start lists that makes dealing with late entries a pain – but I nethertheless do it. Yet when Aussie riders turn up in Europe and *the head of Sport for the UCI* is there – they get put on the back of the grid and the same thing isn’t adhered to.

      Similarly I’ve had massive arguments with commissaires who think that because a rule isn’t “fair” (and I disagree on that point – every other rider had exactly the same opportunity as everyone else on the grid to accrue UCI points at any of the other hundreds of races on the calendar), he can change the start order of races.

      When I was dealing with registrations at a World Cup, it was clearly published that rego for certain categories was between X and Y time, and they make it abundantly clear that team managers have to collect all credentials. But then suddenly they decide they’ll just change this at random. When I was working in F1 that would never fly – what’s published is what is, that’s the rules, and you deal with it. Same thing with CART, and the NBL and NBA events I was involved with.

      UCI, their rules, and their handling of commissaires, needs some serious fixing. The problem goes all the way to the top. As a ‘peak’ sporting body, they’re uh… well, let’s say the sport of cycling is incredibly unprofessional for a professional sport.

  • Ben Around

    I refer the gentlemen’s rules. Consider what happens if the rules go away. What are the boundaries after that? There’s a gray area between bad luck and bad behavior. Can a domestique of Team A, ‘accidenty” crash into Team B’s leader? That’s life, ride on peloton.
    Secondly there’s a psychological factor. If you drop someone who has had a mechanical he may come back with a “fire in his belly”. The snub could be counter-productive.

    • ebbe

      Yes, they can. And they’d risk being excluded from the race if they did. As is the case in any other sport. In football (to name one), a defender can choose to take out the star attacker of the opposing team. But he risks receiving a red card, a lengthy suspension and a hefty fine for doing so.

  • ThisIsJustToSay

    He switched bike to motored bike. How many times has Froome jumped from bike to bike. For all the cash the team spends on Froome’s machines… time to get their sh$t together; lose because you can’t get a quality too expensive bike under your best rider, or Sky and Froome are flopping machines to get one with a motor under Froome… get effing real… Armstrong didn’t need to jump from bike to bike so Froome needs EPO and a motor… time to man up… sorry… your expensive machine turns out to be a sh$t bike and you get hammered… how many tours has Froome been crashing or crying about his boo-booed bike… REALLY… just another conspiracy theory… but Froome is a bike flipper for a reason!

  • John Seymour

    James, cogent, balanced and well-structured argument. I do recognise and appreciate the camraderie and mutual respect the “unwritten rules” exemplifiy, but am swayed by your argument that these mechanical issues are NOT purely random, and the other comments regarding the inherent hypocrisy where a rider accepts the benefits of equipment choice but expects protection against the adverse impact of those same decisions.

  • PsiSquared

    Cycling’s supposed to be a tough sport. Given that, why does the peloton have to hold the leader’s or any challenger’s hand when something goes wrong? Every racer in every other racing discipline knows that if something goes pear shaped, they may not win. I see no good reason why that shouldn’t apply to bicycle races.

    Imagine the uproar if Senna tried to slow all racers when misfortune befell Proust (or vice versa). Racing fans would have rioted.

    • pedr09

      It’s because it’s such a tough sport that these unwritten rules exist. If it wasn’t so incredibly hard to win, I don’t think riders would worry about them so much. When you win a race like this, the thing you want to always have with you the rest of your life is that you beat all of your rivals fair and square, that you never exploited ill fortune that they suffered. Is it always practical or clear cut? Of course not, but I can understand why riders maintain them.

  • Ashok Captain

    JH, brilliantly articulated piece. Also – if one of the knights (dark, or otherwise) chooses to exercise chivalry of the unwritten kind, then so be it, but its certainly not mandatory. Those who’ve raced know – a bike race is war till the finish line.

  • Wily_Quixote

    I take it that all mechanicals in the TdF are the result of collisions?

    if not, how the hell do they occur?

    • Rodrigo Diaz

      Do you consider a flat a mechanical? It does require assistance and a wheel/bike change.

      Same hitting a pothole and wheel coming out of true and rubbing, or slipping on a post or bars. Some photos show broken cranks or chains just gearing from a sprint (the latter maybe a result of a bad shift). Stuff happens – close to 200 people riding their bikes hard something is probably going to be imperfect.

  • Craig Taylor

    Great article James,

    I think the issue here is about the timing of so called etiquette.

    If the race is on ( major climb of the day) then all bets are off, there is too much opportunity for a leader to neutralise the race for their own benefit. I’m not saying Froome did that, but if he felt he was going into the red, a slight time out might have been a great assistance.

    If they are rolling along and there is a crash or something that is unfortunate then by all means wait for the affected riders but in the finale to a stage and the climbs I think bad luck.

    A couple of thoughts.
    – No one waits for Richie last year when he ( a genuine GC contender) had a mechanical in the finale.
    – would Froomes mechanical gears have failed? If he was riding an electronic group set that stops shifting that is the risk of using that technology,
    – Why did they not stop and wait for Dan Martin to regain his position after the Richie crash was not Dans fault and much more unfortunate than Froomes mechanical issue.
    – These traditions are not all that old, it was mostly around Lance/Jan that they really highlighted them. The original tours were won and lost on punctures and mechanical issues.

  • Antonio Boškovi?

    agreed, just race

  • RichLove

    Decent article. I read the title and felt an immediate sense of disagreement, by the end of the article however you’ve swayed me. It would certainly remove all this ambiguity and I’m sure over the season (career?) luck generally evens itself out. Maybe it should be a case of crack on in these situations and head toward a ‘last man standing’ approach. Matt and Dan from GCN were discussing it yesterday: Dan wanted a similar outcome to this article to remove the social media melee that ensues after incidents like this but doesn’t the world love a bit of drama and a talking point? Social media thrives on it and it gives commentators and armchair fans the world over something to discuss for countless club cafe runs to come? I guess it would be a shame to lose some of that in some respect

    • James Huang

      Sure, drama indeed provides plenty to talk about, but I personally would prefer a more straightforward type of drama played out on the road.

    • ebbe

      Isn’t letting events play out even more drama? ;-)

  • David

    Any sport that has this number of dopers caught – never mind those who evade being caught – can hardly be called gentlemanly.

  • P J H E

    I feel the sheer length of a Grand Tour is a factor. A day-race could go to a lone breakaway rider, an opportunist, it could be anyone’s on the day: it’s all part of the fun. As a viewer, I commit a huge amount of time following Grand Tours, and if the outcome was decided by a mechanical I’d feel cheated. I sometimes think about how I’d have felt if that last time trial of the Giro hadn’t happened, and Quintana ended up winning thanks to an untimely bowel movement.
    I get that having reliable equipment, not crashing your bike, and not going for a shit mid-stage are all factors in a Grand Tour, but anyone that would want to win that way isn’t someone I’d want to watch win.

    • ebbe

      I’ would not feel cheated at all if the outcome of a race is determined by “the attention to details team” forgetting to charge the battery on their leader’s bike… Isn’t that exactly the sort of drama cycling has offered for centuries, and the will be talked about for centuries to come?

  • Patrick Smith

    I think in this instance Aru was right to have attacked, correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it Froome’s Di2 that stopped working? The other rider’s shouldn’t have to wait because one of the mechanics hasn’t charged the equipment for long enough!

  • Ali89

    Yea more racing, less marketing procession.

  • Lorenzo Paganelli

    I perfectly agree with what said. A race is a race, maybe Froom could have had the need to change its wheel because he passed in a dirty part of the road and so the puncture is his fault. Who knows?

  • Noel

    I like that it is a ‘courtesy’ extended to the Yellow Jersey – not the wearer, the jersey, which is a point many miss… ‘why didn’t they wait for Dan Martin etc etc etc’ . If you want that courtesy extended to you, then get up the road and earn it – but then you have to do the other stuff that the jersey entails, like the endless post stage interviews, plonking your team on the front for mile after mile when you would rather they rest up etc etc.
    It’s yet another nuance that adds to the complexity of a Grand Tour, which is why I love them. Sometimes it is unclear where the boundaries lie, and then we all get to argue about it until the early hours, which I love too!

  • Patrick Murphy

    I think there is a middle ground here. For me they shouldn’t have to slow down but what they shouldn’t do is speed up. Aru attacked, I’m still not 100% sure he saw the hand go up but regardless of that, attacking when ANY of the group has a mechanical is where cycling can stand apart and apply some sporting conduct. Yeah, sporting conduct when we don’t know what chemicals are propelling them up the mountain.

    Cycling is a team sport, the bike and equipment is part of that team. BMC, Movistar etc shouldn’t be penalised because someone elses equipment failed.

  • George Darroch

    I didn’t see anyone stopping after Richie and Dan Martin crashed out.

    • Noel

      nice one George… I see how you did that…

  • The problem with this specific incident is the timing. Froome raises his hand, Aru goes. He could choose the entire hill to attack, yet he chose the precise moment Froome has a mechanical problem making it very clear he’s attacking the mechanical and not the rider, and as such it is bad sportsmanship. And it is bad sportsmanship to attack someone in contention when they suffer from mechanicals, accidents og nature problems regardless of whether he’s wearing a leader’s jersey.

    That said, had it happened the other way around, Aru attacked and then Froome got the mechanical everything would be quite OK, the point here is the cynicism of attacking the problem and not the rider.

    • ebbe

      But we don’t really know whether Aru wasn’t preparing an attack before the arm came up, do we? Aru may have been showing signs already. Or Aru may have said something in the radio, Froome heard it and decided to stop it by faking a mechanical and pulling his “Maillot Jaune” weight. All pure speculation of course, but who’s to say it’s not true? Precisely because you can speculate till eternity over these matters, is why I would say: Always race. I genuinely would only feel sorry for riders whose “bad luck” (whether it be a mechanical, flat or diarrhea) was caused by outside interference. In all other instances, you are accountable for your own equipment, line choice, tire pressure, feeding strategy, nature breaks, risk taking, etc.

      • Regardless, he had the entire hill to attack, but chose that moment. Yes, there is a chance Froome heard about it and pulled a “Maillot Jaune” move, but it doesn’t change the fact that this attack was attacking the mechanical (real or otherwise) and not the rider.

        This in stark contrast to the attack today. AG2R launched a strong attack and then Froome punctured. Bad luck, but tough luck. No-one waited (besides his team obviously) and none should have. They attacked the field and yellow, not a mechanical. The result was only so so, but it showed that there are possibilities of beating Froome and Sky if you do it right.

        • ebbe

          “Beating”? I’m not sure which race you watched, but Froome wasn’t beaten at all yesterday ;-)

          Anyway. The point was that unwritten “non attack” rules can make for dull racing. Especially when a mechanical happens on a point in the race where attacks are to be expected. Whether somebody attacks because of the mechanical or was already attacking (or preparing to) when the mechanical happened doesn’t really matter. It’s a fact that if you take away people’s chances to attack, if you don’t allow attacks, the racing ends up more dull. If you demand a ceasefire at key points in the race you can in fact easily paralise the race. Whether the mechanical you use as an excuse for it is real or faked doesn’t really matter. And as I said: We don’t know which it was in this case.

          I understand what you’re saying: You’re explaining how one situation isn’t the other. A point that nobody was disputing actually. But that doesn’t change that fact that purely from the racing perspective, ceasefires don’t make for attractive spectacle.

          • Yes, Froome was strong and far from beaten yesterday. Both he and his team showed why they’re currently the strongest yellow rider and team. It was good racing though.

            Anyways, we’re in agreement on the base point, racing should be exciting.

  • Rob Booth

    It’s gentlemanly to sit up for a mechanical but totally acceptable to try block the road for those trying to escape in a breakaway by weaving across the road? We see it on almost every stage. This sport is filled with so many contradictions.

    • Neuron1

      Great point. When the composition of the break is acceptable than the front of the race is sewn shut. Why? A gentleman would let another rider up the road to seek his glory for the day.

  • cabman73

    Love this article.
    Coming from an XC background, equipment, tire choice/pressure, gearing, etc..making sure your machine has every chance to finish the race without incident are critical. Race light tires, well you may go faster but also risk flatting.
    Been watching bike racing for 25 years now. Can’t remember so many mis shifts, bikes not working, due to electronic shifting.
    High performance means high maintenance and some of these amazing pro tour machines seem way to fragile.
    This is probably why most of the shifting tech comes from the XC arena because reliability and shifting under immense pressure over and over in crap conditions is necessary to finish a race.
    Basically Grand Tour racing has become so boring because everyone is afraid of having a mechanical that no one keeps the pace up if another rider has an issue. I get that logic but it makes the race boring.
    This is why one day races is where is it at now. No waiting, no bs rules, just race hard and no worries about tomorrow’s possible bike failures.
    As another posted, if the riders were limited to one bike per stage, the bikes would be more reliable as they are in CX and XC.

    • Ashok Captain

      Ummm in CX races most serious riders have two bikes : D.
      Agree with your post though!

      • cabman73

        My bad, I stand corrected.
        Nevertheless, those CX bikes really put up with awful conditions. And as we saw at the CX World Championships, no matter how many bikes you have, if your tire pressure and choice isn’t correct plus no waiting for mechanicals equals a very hard selective race.

  • Doubtful Guest

    Are bowels mechanical? Should there be a penalty for bad food choices?

    Kidding — good arguments, James.

  • jgrosser

    Did Froome wait for Dan Martin, after Martin was taken out by Porte? No. In every sport I’ve competed in, if you have an equipment failure, it’s too bad for you. Why should the TdF be any different? Moreover, how can it be know for certain that Froome wasn’t faking or exaggerating a mechanical in order to deprive his competitors of an opportunity to challenge his lead? Better to just let the racers race.

  • The tour is a bit different than many other races and as such has a lot of tradition that is built into it. Sure you can attack when someone is having a mechanical, but it’s cool to see the peloton not do it. Try cycling 21 days straight (minus the rest days) at the pace these guys are going with all the various road conditions they have to endure. It really a wonder than any of them finish without having mechanicals.

  • Cruz er

    I understand the “gentlemens agreement” of the peloton.

    I think on long stages, where it is pointless to attack the yellow jersey EARLY ON and teams agree to stop for nature breaks, for example, is where this tradition stems from. In those many km’s before the mountains or crucial sections, attacks will only raise the ire of the peloton and pointless to the race. That’s why they all agree to wait if the Malliot Jaune has a mechanical or problem. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do. Otherwise, in that situation, you would be a wanker and simply irritate the MJ. The entire peloton would agree it’s right to let the MJ reinsert himself into the peloton without working his entire team to do it- for no good sporting reason.

    Now it’s morphed into saying riders shouldn’t attack at crucial moments late in the race. That’s actually a recent phenomena left over from the Lance Dopestrong era. I think fair play is what makes cycling unique and beautiful but this tradition really has been twisted.

    In the heat of battle, competitors have to attack and do their best. The judgement of how and when are up to the individual. That’s racing.

    In this particular situation, Aru and Fuglesang pre-planned to attack here. Not that it matters.
    They have the sporting right to attack where they think they can gain an advantage.

    Mechanicals, crashes and other unfortunate incidents are a tragic part of bike racing. Ask Porte, Valverde, or a host of others that simply had bad luck. Does everyone let up every time the MJ has a problem…or overstates a problem?…

    BTW, I didn’t see FROOME slow down one bit when Porte crashed. Froome had no idea if Porte was to get back on. Was Froome not a gentleman because he didn’t wait?
    That’s racing folks.

  • Playahermosa

    Good article, but to start..This did NOT start at the base of the final climb as you said..Riders were fully engaged with maybe 2 k to the top of a 12K climb at an average 12%..Had already dropped Contador etc…The real problem with this “Unwritten” rule is it is to suit ONLY the race leader! Froome’s words are that he expects riders to not take advantage of him or the race leader if there is a problem, BUT it is OK if he or race leader takes advantage of others if & when they have problems! This is the real STUPID part that needs to GO AWAY!! These riders are paid millions of $$ to race their bikes by sponsors..They are NOT paid by other teams to sit & wait if any other rider other than their own teammates have a problem..Race your dame bikes to the finish!! Shit happens & will happen to every rider at some point! Get over this BS & race / attack to the finish!!

  • Fenton Crackshell

    James, you cite a good example in CX and XC racing, where no one throws you a lifeline for mechanicals or crashes. As a racer in those disciplines, I hold myself personally responsible for nearly all of my crashes and mechanicals. Crashing is almost always my fault, except in rare instances where I was taken out from behind by another racer. Flats are usually a consequence of picking poor lines over rough terrain, not unweighting my wheels, gambling on low pressures for added grip, or neglecting my tire setup. Drivetrain issues are caused by abrasive shifting or drivetrain neglect. I realize that professional road racing is a different animal, but racers should not be excused for these for some of these “unfortunate setbacks” which are often quite preventable.

  • Bärlach

    Well said, James. Uran showed real racer attitude, resoluteness and perseverance. Winning Stage 9 of this TdF stuck in 53/11 against top GC contenders is epic.

  • Dave

    I agree. Your comparison with Uran’s gear issue was also very valid. Let the boys race. If a rider wants better puncture resistance, ride tougher tyres and deal with the weight penalty just like the speed penalty on harder compounds on cars. If a rider wants to attack, go for it. If others want to reign him back and slow it down, then so be it. All of us arm chair critics need to stop attacking individual riders for making the sport exciting. Attacks and drama are what make the sport good to watch, not a silly procession where the yellow jersey somehow demands all this extra respect over old mate down the back. Race on and make that yellow jersey a prize and not an entitlement.

  • Neuron1

    Regarding “Poop-gate” during the Giro, it is obvious from about 50 K out from the end of the race that TD is suffering. He is off the back, with the team car and if you watch his face, clearly not well. He was dragged through the valley by the weight of the peloton. Had anyone recognized this earlier and attacked, he would likely have been dropped. His act of rapid bowel evacuation, was the finale of this nealry 20 K drama, and he should have been attacked aggressively and repeatedly. His misfortune was likely from poor fueling strategy and an osmotic diarrhea. This is not unpredicatble and the peloton shoud not have waited for him. If they had done the right thing, there would be a very different wearer of the pink jersey today. Attack all you want, but first go watch the replays and then disagree.

  • NC

    Great article, James.

    I do think, though, that in terms of choosing equipment, a mountain stage in a grand tour is fundamentally different from almost any other kind of bike race.

    At Paris-Roubaix, for instance, there’s a lot of variability in the set of reasonable choices for almost any component. Yes, you can choose to run lighter, faster wheels. If they fail, the risk didn’t work out for you, and nobody’s waiting for you.

    In a GT mountain stage, on the other hand, everybody’s riding a slight variation on the same bike. It weighs 15 lbs. It’s the lightest frame the sponsor makes. Probably electronic shifting.

    In other words, the “risks” Froome/Sky took in selecting his bike that fateful day were the same risks that everyone in the lead group took. Or you could say no risk at all. The only person taking a real risk was Aru, who risked looking like a tool for the sake of gaining time.

    The finales of these unique types of bike races (GT mtn stages) are ideally about who has the legs and who doesn’t. I think it leaves a lot of room for unwritten rules that attempt to mitigate bad luck and keep it about the legs. Maybe that’s why most pros still support some code of conduct.

    • ebbe

      The fact that most riders/teams arrive at similar conclusions when balancing a trade off doesn’t mean there are no other options, of course. There are always other options, even if that means pushing your suppliers to come up with better products.

      In this particular case: Froome and Sky made a decision to use Di2. There’s probably many reasons for this. But, by doing so, they automatically accept the risk of a wire getting crossed / battery being drained / button not working (whatever the problem was – if it even was a real mechanical). Protecting the downside of material choices by some sort of unwritten rules takes all the fun out of it if you ask me.

      Without these unwritten rules, these “slight variations of the same bike” might not be such a sure bet as you make it out to be. Without these unwritten rules, all of a sudden the factor “durability” will weigh in higher.

      • NC

        Hi ebbe,

        Good points! I agree that anything that encourages product durability and manufacturer/team/mechanic accountability is a good thing.

        I would argue, though, that for this type of incident, the eventual impact of the unwritten rules on equipment durability may not be all that great.

        First, the equipment apparently failed. We all saw it, and we’re all talking about it. If it had cost Froome the jersey (that is, if the unwritten rules had been abolished/ignored), the PR situation for Shimano would certainly have been worse. But it’s already not great. A manufacturer doesn’t want this kind of incident happening at the world’s biggest bike race, regardless of the implications for GC.

        Second, there’s another important source for manufacturer accountability: the customer. Many of these components are not racer-only versions, but are top-end production models available to the public. If Di2 routinely fails, the Joe Shmoes of this world are already letting Shimano and anyone who will listen hear about it, and it’s going to influence sales of Shimano drivetrains and bikes spec’d with them.

        So I’m not really disagreeing with you. Maybe it would be simplest to throw the unwritten rules out the window. At least then things would be well-defined! But I do think that many of the factors behind the decision (like this one) are really not black-and-white.

        • ebbe

          Of course I completely agree with you! A sponsor* does not want their equipment failing on TV in the biggest event of the year. I don’t know if the PR situation would be any better or worse if nobody had waited for Froome, but I maintain this position: If Shimano doesn’t want their stuff to fail on TV, build better stuff! So this ‘incident’ is all the more reason for Shimano to build – and for Sky to ask for – better stuff, wouldn’t you agree? ;-)

          * although Sky buys their own drivetrain parts, as I understand it… so Shimano is not a ‘sponsor’ as they are for many other teams and thus doesn’t have any leverage over Sky. But that’s not really relevant here I guess.

          • NC


            Also, interesting note about Sky/Shimano. Didn’t know that!

          • Il_falcone

            ebbe, do you knowk who the teams are that Shimano still sponsors? Not many left, right? And do those “only” receive their components for free or does Shimano also give them money as all the bike manufacturers have to that want to equip a team. As long as it’s not their own team.

            • ebbe

              All I know is that Sky buy their own drivetrain parts. Quickstep either buys them or gets them from Specialized. There might be others that I don’t know about. Dimension Data possibly, since they also seem to use Rotor?

              As I understand, all drivetrain sponsoring is in equipment and support only, no additional money. But of course I’ve no intimate knowledge of any of the contracts, so don’t just take my word for it ;-)

  • JoshLyons

    If they are ‘unwritten’ then they are not rules – they are just somebody’s fancy.

  • David Bogue

    All professional sports have their unwritten rules or codes of things you do and things you don’t do. With some things the athlete’s need to police themselves.

  • Peredon

    Well one thing is to be a gentleman and the other is to become a champion. If this was such a gentlemen’s sport you would not see the disparity in pay and what some teams get in sponsorship. If I’m a team that is still looking for sponsors I’d have thrown that whole sportsmanship thing that is questionable out the window. Team Sky is all about Team Sky and every team needs to take care of their guys. I agree with this article and a little controversy in this area is much better then the past’s controversies.


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