Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Le Tour 2010 - Stage 2 - "Why should Cancellara decide?" Indeed. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

I guess yesterday's - or last night's - debacle at Le Tour can be blamed on too many riders on too-narrow roads. Add some rain and maybe a sprinkle of oil and bingo, they all fall down. Well, some had better luck than others. Chavanal made his own luck and kept well clear, making his win a deserved one - but the points and time gap were not a "real" result and I'm sure even he feels a bit cheated that the remaining riders - and not just Cancellara, although he spontaneously took up the 'lead coordinator' role - turned off the chase. Yes, it was the right thing to do when big names were splattered all over the road - it's meant to be an athletic contest, not a smash-em-up derby after all. But many of us have been in bike races where conditions were bad - rain, hail, dirt roads, crashes - and still the race went on. So why last night was different I'm not sure. It was bad and riders were confused, but did it need to be neutralised all the way to the end...? What if Cancellara and others were not just seeking to be "fair" to the fallen but also hoping that their teammates made it back, too?

Whilst the riders make the race and must ride to the conditions - free will reigns over contracted obligations - they are also a part of a large, well financed enterprise. The biggest part, to be sure. But when other organisations and individuals make important decisions like this that have huge flow-on effects they are governed independently to monitor and control for conflicts of interest. Is professional sport any different? Apparently, yes.  

OTOH no one wants to see anyone hurt. Let's hope Stage 3 is allowed to go all the way to the end. 

Hushovd Furious As Points Neutralised In Spa | Cyclingnews.com
"What happened is not normal," Hushovd said on the phone. "I'm very sorry for the riders who crashed. It was a big mess. But yet, this is still a bike race. Crashes happen all the time. It's been a really big mistake from ASO and the UCI commissaires to agree to neutralise the end of the stage. The Tour de France is a big, big race. Things like that shouldn't happen."

"Why should Cancellara decide?," the Norwegian questioned. "He's a rider like us." Hushovd and the Cervélo team were one of the few to not accept the decision of the yellow jersey to wait for some injured riders and then to prevent the sprint for second place from being contested. Jeremy Hunt chased behind Chavanel for a while.

"I've been riding all day for the stage win and the green jersey and I end up with nothing," Hushovd continued. "This is not fair. Will the same thing happen tomorrow? Will the times for GC be taken before the pavés sections? If Alberto Contador or another big rider crashes tomorrow on the cobblestones, he's entitled to ask for the race to be neutralised too! So when will we race, really?"

Hushovd Furious As Points Neutralised In Spa | Cyclingnews.com
That decision pushed Chavanel into the lead of the points classification, taking away a prime opportunity from sprinters like Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen to gain an advantage over foes like Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar who had been dropped from the main peloton.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
The logic and correctness of what happened next is likely to be debated, at least in some circles, for a long while.

After the mass crash on the Stockeu descent, yellow jersey Cancellara called a truce on the day’s racing.

For me there’s no debate. The peloton acted responsibly, and under the leadership of yellow-jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara, the front group rode a steady tempo to allow those who could rejoin the group to do so. They didn’t slow to a crawl or stop and wait, and the groups that rejoined – including Cancellara’s teammates and pre-Tour favorites Andy and Frank Schleck – had to work to get back into the pack. But no one responded to the news of a crash by launching an attack or putting their men on the front to make sure fallen riders didn’t make it back to the main group.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
Criticize them from the comfort of your couch or from behind a laptop in your climate-controlled office if you want, but having raced through the Ardennes region in the rain as a professional cyclist myself, you won’t hear me begrudge them their decision today. I’m a fan of hardman racing just like anyone else, but if you expect racers to accept the risks inherent in professional road cycling, you also have to respect their right to occasionally draw the line.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
Cancellara had put the word out that all should wait and they did, the bunch regrouped, but we would have to wait to see the damage the big crash caused, the shit had hit the fan big time and it looked very much like it was form a herd of cows!
Leipheimer Describes Ardennes Stage As Pure Survival | Cyclingnews.com
American Levi Leipheimer pointed to Monday's crash on the descent of the Col du Stockeu as a prime example of why communication between the team cars and the riders is important. The RadioShack rider said the new rules banning television monitors from the front seats of team cars prevented them from knowing what was happening in the ensuing chaos.

The lack of information was one of the reasons behind the strike that led the riders to wait for Andy Schleck and negotiate with the race director the cancellation of the points from second to twentieth place.