Dont attack when your rival suffers bad luck - Cycling

General Principles

We’ve seen many examples of riders yielding for others in race deciding moments.  Armstrong waiting for Ulrich on stage in 2001.  Hamilton rallying for Ulrich and the others to wait for Armstrong in 2003 when he crashed after getting hooked up on a fan’s bag.   Those are a couple in recent history. -- cyclingtipsblog.com


Today we saw a rare spectacle in pro cycling.  An unspoken gentleman’s agreement between everyone in the peloton to sit up and neutralize the finish.


In today’s stage the ASO included the narrow descent of the Stockeu where 60-70 riders went down.   It looked as if there was oil on the road as even the team mechanics running around were slipping and sliding all over as if it were ice.  Bikes and motorcycles were littered all over the road.


Sylvain Chavanel along with 8 others (including Matty Lloyd who was fighting for KOM points) escaped early on in the race.  Chavanel emerged from the group of 8 as the lone rider to cross the finish line nearly 4 minutes ahead of thepeloton.  The rest of the peloton were in agreement to wait up for the others who crashed and made no effort to chase down Chavanel in the final kilometers.   No one was willing to profit from the misfortunes of others in this instance. --cyclingtipsblog.com


It's tradition to not attack the race leader if there's an accident etc. Had Contador basically riden 'at tempo' (or merely followed the other two highly-placed riders with him ahead of Schleck), it would have been just fine (ignoring the fact that the only reason they were off the front was because they had to follow Contador). 


The problem is that Contador attacked and maintained the attack, setting the pace at the front. But he apologized, Andy forgave him, and everyone sat around the dinner table last night singing Kumbaya.  -- Straight Dope boards

What's interesting about cycling is that they actually write down some of the unwritten rules. For example, USA Cycling has this concept of a "Free Lap". In a race that does laps, if you have laps less than a certain distance, you can receive mechanical assistance at designated spots on the course ("pits"), and rejoin the race a lap later.


The idea here is that a rider shouldn't necessarily be penalized for a mechanical or a crash. Sound familiar? It should, because this is the written version (for crits) of the unwritten version (for road races).


In crits, until 5 miles to go, you can get a free lap. You have to have crashed or had a mechanical, and if it's a mechanical, it has to be a failure of some point. It cannot be a simple malfunction (like you drop your chain, ahem, or roll an improperly glued tire). Mechanicals need to be beyond the rider's control - broken spoke, bent rim, broken saddle, stuff like that. If the bike isn't adjusted right, that's not a mechanical. If it breaks, it is.


However, and this is key, the free lap rule expires with 5 miles to go. Or 8 km, as officially written. What the written rule says is that although it's proper to allow someone a second chance after a mishap, you can't get that second chance in the last 5 miles of a race.  -- Sprinter della Casa



Stage 2, TdF 2010


Finally, because ProTour riders expect to be able to stay together in some reasonable form, cobblestones and dirt roads become a factor. For us amateurs they don't make a difference simply because our expectations differ - we don't think our fields will stick together after even short hills on dirt roads. The pros, on the other hand, think they will, at least in a Grand Tour.


ProTour racers need to make their own decisions on what is "acceptable" and what is not. On Stage 2 of the Tour, after a series of crashes that took out something like 80 or 100 racers, the racers took it upon themselves to neutralize the race. In this case it seems a motorcycle crashed, cracking its block, and spread oil all over an already slick descent. Chaos ensued. Schleck, ironically, ended up one of the main beneficiaries on this day, when a potential multi-minute loss turned into a "same time" finish.


Stage 2's neutralization hinged on the fact that so many riders went down. Some teams escaped unscathed, with Cervelo Test Team prominently at the front, with green jersey contender Thor Hushovd and the aforementioned Carlos Sastre. -- Sprinter della Casa


Cycling can be a strange sport sometimes due to the unwritten rules of etiquette.   In stage 2 from Brussels to Spa we saw some nasty crashes that brought down half the peloton on some dangerous roads where the cyclists themselves decided to neutralize the race.  The very next day we saw similar carnage over the cobbles where the riders took advantage of the splits and misfortune that occurred.  The different circumstances in each stage were subtle but to anyone who knows the sport of cycling it’s obvious what is appropriate for each situation.  -- cyclingtipsblog.com


Contador-Schleck, 2010


Although mechanical problems are considered part and parcel of bike racing, Schleck hit out immediately at Contador for not being "fair play". "In the same situation I would not have taken advantage," said Schleck, who had held the yellow jersey since taking it from Australia's Cadel Evans on stage nine.


"I'm not the jury, but for sure those guys wouldn't get the fair play award from me today." Schleck had to hold his anger back as he swapped the yellow jersey for the white jersey for the race's best-placed rider aged 25 or under. And he has promised to take his revenge on Contador swiftly. "I'm really disappointed. My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take my revenge," he said. "I will take my revenge in the coming days." - Sport24


Last night we saw another rule of etiquette broken – Alberto Contador attacking Andy Schleck while dealing with a mechanical.  Schleck attacked, popped it into the big ring, and dropped his chain.  Contador, most likely under DS direction (they have satellite TV in the team cars and knew exactly what was happening), attacked Schleck to gain enough time to claim the yellow jersey.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what was happening.


However, after watching the stage replay it was perhaps not as simple as that.  Contador was faced with a difficult decision.  Sanchez and Menchov were smashing it and Contador couldn’t afford to yield and wait for Schleck.  What would Sanchez and Menchov have done if Contador held up and waited?  No one could know.  -- cyclingtipsblog.com


So where should we draw the line on etiquette, specifically on the whole “waiting for yellow” debate that seems to be all the rage? Here’s what I think. If everyone’s rolling piano down the Normandy coast and the yellow jersey flats or rides himself into a ditch with 70k to go? Yeah, maybe ease off the pedals a bit until he’s back on, or at least don’t attack looking for some GC seconds. But if you’re 3k from the top of the final climb of the second stage in the second set of mountains, the win is on the line, and the attacks have started? I’m sorry, but at that point it’s game on and you can't expect too much courtesy. If the situation allows, sure it would be nice to call a little truce, but I’m not so sure there’s dishonor in not doing it when the momentum of the race has swung so drastically towards fighting out the finale. At some point, you just have to let the boys race their bikes, and stop worrying about who didn’t fold their napkin the right way before they put it back in their lap. -- Servicecourse.com

The unwritten rules among elite bike riders hold that a rider should win through effort and talent, not through misfortune on the part of competitors. If a rider leading a stage – or the overall Tour leader  - suffers a recoverable fall or has mechanical difficulty, the rest of the riders voluntarily slow down until the delayed rider is back where he would have been without the incident.
Needless to say, there is some variability of judgment around the norms. During an early stage across rough cobblestones, Contador had a broken spoke in one of his wheels. Nobody waited, and he came in behind arch-rivalSchleck.
-- Pam Klainer


If I dropped a chain in a crit, I don't get a free lap. This is because there's an assumption that a properly adjusted, properly ridden bike will not spontaneously drop its chain. Sure, I could really screw things up by, say, putting it in the big ring and big cog and pedal backwards furiously. I guarantee you that my chain won't be happy within a second or two.


And with Schleck's case, whatever it was that caused him to drop his chain, it wasn't a peloton-wide phenomenon. It wasn't a cracked motorcycle engine case spewing oil everywhere on a wet, curvy descent taking out half the field. It wasn't a SRAM defect (Contador rode a SRAM bike as well). It wasn't a stray spectator taking him out. There was no blood, no crash, no rider plummeting off a cliff.


The problem struck only Schleck, when he was essentially by himself, in the middle of the road, on a hill at a reasonable speed (albeit faster than you or me), on a sunny, clear, and dry day. For a bike racer there couldn't be more ideal conditions to be riding a bike....



But in Chaingate we're not talking about a crash. We're not talking about injury or sabotage. We're talking about a rider, essentially alone, who has a mechanical that requires absolutely no adjustment or part replacement to fix. The bike worked before, and it worked after the incident. The rider was alone. No one touched him, no one caused him to drop his chain. No one jammed a pump in his wheel (or into his chain).


If a racer's bike has a problem that requires no parts or adjustment to fix, and it happens in the most ideal conditions - on smooth roads, dry, warm, sunny, on a top line bike, with no one around, at reasonable speeds - then there's no reason for anyone to wait.


One can be respectful to one's opponents. But at some point it's a competition, and everyone has to race. Although crashes are a case by case situation, solo mechanicals are not. I may push a teammate who dropped a chain so that he can pick it back up, but if he stops to put the chain back on, I wouldn't expect him to get a free lap, nor would I expect the field to wait for him. Even if he was in the Yellow Jersey. In the greatest race in the world.


-- Sprinter della Casa

Armstrong-Ullrich, 2003

When Lance Armstrong was dropped to the pavement by the wayward handle of a fan's yellow bag, his closest pursuers, even 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, dust himself off and get back in the race. To many U.S. sports fans, casual watchers of this extraordinary bike race, what happened in Monday's Stage 15 of the Tour de France caused a collective "huh?"  But toUllrich, who is now 1 minute 7 seconds behind Armstrong as the three-week race heads into its final five days, speeding off while Armstrong was on the ground would have been wrong.  "Of course, I would wait," Ullrich said Tuesday morning at his hotel here, where Stage 16 begins today. "If I would have won this race by taking advantage of someone's bad luck, then the race was not worth winning."



"I don't know when it evolved," said Phil Liggett, a former amateur rider and for 31 years a journalist who has covered the Tour. "It's been a gradual thing, this so-called unwritten code. But now it is understood. You don't attack a fallen man. I can't think of a time, in my 31 years, when a rider attacked someone who had crashed. I know that today, in the German press, it's been written that Ullrich pulled a stupid maneuver by not attacking Lance when he went down. But the attitude in cycling is: You want to win a race? You want to beat someone, not take advantage." Or, as Ullrich said, "I have never in my life attacked someone who has crashed. That's not the way I race." Two years ago, Armstrong waited for Ullrich when the German crashed on a mountain descent.


"There's always been a predictable code of honor," said Bob Roll, a member of the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame and a four-time rider in the Tour. 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. It is bad luck what happened to Lance. It is bad luck if you get a flat, it is bad luck if a fan runs into the road or you have to swerve to avoid a dog or cat. All that stuff happens."


-- LA Times


Sastre-Sanchez, 2010


Sastre attacked just as podium contender Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed early in Thursday’s stage. Alberto Contador (Astana) waved for the peloton to slow down, but Sastre went away anyway.


Sastre railed against criticism that he should have slowed down as well. “When I was attacking, Alberto Contador came to me and told me that there was a crash from behind. I replied that that seemed nice to me, but that I had a teammate up the road, the race was on and I was going to continue with my attack,” Sastre said. “They slowed and later, when I arrived at the finish line, they told me who had crashed.”


Sánchez and Contador are close friends, and Contador’s loyal Astana teammate Benjamin Noval is the godfather toSánchez’s son. Sastre said the peloton is taking things too far when it comes to “fair play.” “Whoever wants to make a polemic out of this can do it freely. I have fallen in this Tour, I fell during the Giro, I have had mechanical problems, and nobody ever waited for me,” Sastre said. “I think we are turning cycling into a baby’s playpen and that’s what happens in these circumstances.”  -- VeloNews