On the face of it, it might seem curious, even perverse, that a sport where the lowest form of cheating has been endemic over the years makes a big deal out of ethical codes. Since the sport began in the 19th century, drug-taking has always been there, and in the last 12 years it's been revealed to be systematic at the highest level. It's cheating, full stop. It's the ultimate way to gain an unfair advantage. No ethics there.
And yet there is massive outrage and heated debate when a competitor takes advantage of a big rival having a mechanical problem, as happened on Monday when Alberto Contador, favourite to win the Tour, pressed on after AndySchleck, the biggest threat to him, unshipped his chain at a key moment. Contador is held to have broken an unwritten law: you don't attack your rival when he has crashed or had a mechanical.
Written ethical codes don't count for much in cycling. There have been a couple of attempts to make professional cyclists sign charters stating they won't take drugs, but they have been quietly abandoned, because they didn't stem the tide of positive tests, and they were viewed solely as window-dressing. The unwritten rules are another matter. They are everywhere, although the Contador-Schleck episode shows that as in Pirates of the Caribbean, the "code" is sometimes merely viewed as a guideline....
To understand why this system exists, you need to look at the nature of cycling. The calendar is massive, involving hundreds of days of racing during the year. The races have up to 200 cyclists sharing the same road space, facing the same dangers. Not surprisingly, merely to survive, the riders had to evolve a way of existing together, competing without putting each other in danger, and without making daily life impossible.
So why did the unwritten code not extend to drug-taking? Probably because, until very recently, taking drugs was seen as just another way of combating the demands of the sport. It's only recently begun to be seen as unethical and a danger in itself: it will take a while for that to be universally accepted. -- William Fotheringham
Their animosity stems from Simeoni's testimony against sports doctor Michele Ferrari, with whom Armstrong has ties. Ferrari faces allegations of providing performance enhancers to riders and in 2002, Simeoni told an Italian court that Ferrari advised him to take drugs. Ferrari has testified that he never prescribed or administered banned substances. The result at this Tour is bad blood between Armstrong and Simeoni.
"All he wants to do is destroy cycling and destroy the sport that pays him, and that's wrong," the Texan said after his extraordinary move to rein in Simeoni. The Italian was trying to catch a group of six riders who, in an effort to win, pulled away from the main pack early in the stage through eastern France. Armstrong went tearing after him. When he and Simeoni caught the escape group, the riders there told Simeoni he was not welcome. They knew that their chances of winning the stage were nil if Armstrong stayed with them. Simeoni eventually demurred, breaking off his attack and returning to the main pack - with Armstrong.
"Armstrong demonstrated to the entire world what type of person he is," Simeoni said. "It is not reasonable that a great champion doesn't give a chance to a small rider like me and the others. ... I suffered an injustice from him while everyone was watching."
"I felt very, very good and I made a great move to get to the front," he said. But he added: "When I understood that Armstrong would stay there because I was there, out of respect for the other riders I sat up and went back." That Armstrong felt the need to spike Simeoni's effort showed both the depth of his anger at the Italian and that he is feeling so confident about a sixth Tour victory that he can afford to take his mind off the race momentarily. -- RedOrbit
A small group of riders -- none of them a threat to Armstrong's overall lead -- sprinted ahead in a breakaway that had a chance to stay away all day from the main pack. At some point, an Italian cyclist by the name of Filippo Simeoni burst from the pack to try and reach the leading group. And then, to everyone's astonishment, Armstrong, wearing the leader's yellow jersey, sprinted away to catch up with Simeoni.
It was madness. Here was the yellow jersey trying to bridge across to a breakaway of nobodies with just a couple of days left in the race, when such a move could not possibly help his chances to win the overall title, and when he was about to set one of the greatest records in the history of the sport. I can remember the analysts announcing the race going crazy. It made no sense at all.
Simeoni and Armstrong reached the leading group, and started taking turns trying to help keep it in the lead. But the other cyclists began complaining. With Armstrong in the group, there was no way the big, powerful teams in the pack were going to let the breakaway succeed. Indeed, the strong T-Mobile team was already leading the pack, picking up the pace to reel in the leaders. T-Mobile couldn't afford to let Armstrong add to his overall time advantage.
For the minor riders in the breakaway, this was supposed to be their moment in the sun, their chance to win a stage, something that could make their entire season. And now Armstrong was ruining it for them. But why? It made no sense at all.
Armstrong told the other cyclists that he would be willing to sit up and return to the main pack -- but only if Simeoni went with him. The others in the breakaway, when they heard that, berated Simeoni to agree. And eventually, he did. Armstrong and Simeoni slowed down to wait for the main pack, and let the breakaway continue on its own.
In the late 1990s, Simeoni had admitted publicly to doping. And in his confession, he had denounced the sketchy Dr. Michele Ferrari as the person who had supplied him the drugs. Ferrari had many high-profile sports clients that he helped with blood analysis. One of them was Armstrong. Angry at Simeoni's remarks about Ferrari, Armstrong had called Simeoni a liar -- the Italian in turn sued Armstrong, and the case was in the courts.
Now, the episode began to make some sense. When Simeoni had made his move to get into the breakaway, Armstrong had sprinted ahead to make sure Simeoni's move wouldn't succeed. As long as he was in the breakaway, it was sure to fail.
When the two cyclists returned to the pack, Armstrong claimed that the other cyclists had thanked him. Armstrong said that he was "protecting the interests of the peleton." But protecting it from what?
After the incident, I received a message from my friend Matt Smith, a columnist at SF Weekly and a former professional cyclist. He was pretty worked up. Did you see that? He asked. That was omerta! Armstrong, in other words, was punishing Simeoni for breaking the code of silence, for daring to speak publicly about doping and the questionable characters like Ferrari that were dragging cycling down. Matt didn't see any other way to interpret Armstrong's actions. -- Tony Ortega