Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On conflicts of interest and cycling - or how vested interests can pervert an event

Le Tour Stage 2 was really interesting on several levels. On one level it was simply too dangerous and unfair to continue racing when so many top riders had been delayed by forces largely out of their control (ie a wet road/oil slick combo that claimed nearly everyone). It's hard to blame them for wanting to annul the stage on that basis.

OTOH there's money on the line here and decisions were made on the road by individuals with a vested interest in the final result. Now if the riders were not connected by radio to team directors I'd be less inclined to question their motivations, but in any event it was obvious that neutralising the stage was in the best interests of several teams - and perhaps the majority. And the minority who were coerced into following what the Saxo Bank team wanted could do nothing. Oh sure, they could've attacked when the main field regrouped but they would also have been chased down by the man with the yellow jersey on his back and given at least some sort of tongue-lashing, or worse.

Of course if they always behaved so nicely and cooperatively no-one would ever have to chase after a fall - they'd wait for 'em to catch up. And sometimes, like on Stage 2, that's what happens. Maybe that's all there is to it.

So to summarise it was interesting to see...
  • Cancellara taking "control" and coordinating what 'seemed' to be a uniform group decision to neutralise the stage
  • The race referee - let's call him chief commissaire - negotiating and shaking hands with Cancellara, effectively confirming Cancellara's status as spokesperson on the road (the 'yellow jersey effect'?)
  • Most riders - barring those who vented afterwards or who moved out of line right at the finish - complying with Cancellara's "directions"
  • The post-race decision to annul all points except Chavanel's (after all he was the only one actually racing the last 15km or more)
  • And the hidden element - the race radios. What was going on in those rider-director conversations? Was it just 'wait for Andy' or something more? Was there collusion between teams?   

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.

Cadel's Diary | Cadel Evans 2009-2010 - The Official Site of Cadel Evans - World Champion 2009, Tour de France runner-up in 2007,2008.
Today, because of the number of guys who went down, the group agreed not to sprint. Considering the number of guys injured, the danger of the last 10km, I'm sorry for the spectators, but it was the right thing to do. Sorry, we are human as well. Don't fear, for the masochists amongst you, there will be plenty of suffering/crashes/damage to come...probably most of it tomorrow...
Robbie Hunter (RobbieHunter) on Twitter
See how much you guys like hitting the deck at 60km/h .....