Would Contador be Jeered in ’Cross?

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Crashes, Day 1, Cyclocross National Championships, Singlespeed race. © Janet Hill

Not much waiting around, fair play or gentlemen's rules in cyclocross. © Janet Hill

by Robbie Carver

Whether you’re a fan of road racing or not, you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding Stage 15 of the Tour de France, where Contador took the yellow jersey after accelerating when Andy Schleck dropped his chain in the midst of his own attack.  The press and forums have been ablaze since then, some defending Contador’s move, others attacking him for disregarding cycling’s “Gentleman’s Rules,” in which a rider should not take advantage of an opponent’s mechanical mishaps. “This is fair play,” said commentator Paul Sherwen as it happened, “thrown out of the window.” Many fans agreed, jeering and booing Contador as he pulled on the yellow jersey for the first time in this tour. It was hotly debated on our Facebook Fan Page (see “Wait? Why Wait?…”), while over on the road-oriented site VeloNews, 71% thought Contador was wrong to actually keep racing, in well, a bike race. Contador even issued a YouTube apology after the stage, perhaps to address the early backlash shortly after the stage.

And while the final outcome of Contador’s move is neither here nor there for us at Cyclocross Magazine (well, maybe we do have an opinion, but it’s really just a road race we’re talking about), we do feel the debate has raised an interesting point about the difference in mentality between road racing and cyclocross. In ‘cross, mechanicals and crashes and all-around bad luck are just part of the game; a racer plans for them, prepares as best he or she can with gear selection, and if lucky, pit bikes and a good crew, and then what happens, happens. Just last December, Jeremy Powers looked very strong early on in the 2009 Cyclocross National Championships in Bend, but crashed in a greasy corner. Maybe someone else made that corner extra slick in a previous race.  Maybe his tire gauge wasn’t perfectly accurate when choosing his pressure. Maybe, like Bob Roll has theorized with Schleck, a small pebble amazingly got in the wrong place at the wrong time and caused the misfortune. But racing continued and nobody called foul play. (At least for J-Pow there was a bitter sweet ending, as his Cannondale – CyclocrossWorld teammate Tim Johnson won. )

In fact, mechanicals and crashes are so ubiquitous in ‘cross, we asked each of the winners from the National Championships about theirs in our Issue 6 interviews. Here’s 2007-2009 Masters Women 65+ Champion Julie Lockhart’s answer: “I almost crashed at the corner after the muddy descent, but dabbed a foot and survived. Then, after the barriers, trying to remove mud, banged my chain off…was passed by many, took a while to get my chain past the chainguard and back on.” While her misfortune was surely a bummer, you can bet no one jeered those racers who passed her as she re-aligned her chain.

And here’s Barbara Howe, 2009 Masters Women 30-34 National Champion, being interviewed about her win in Issue 9: “Kari and Andrea Smith were off the the front…Andrea had a mechanical when she was way out in front. I don’t know when she fixed it and got back on, but that’s when you take advantage, that’s racing. You take advantage of anything that you can.” No one booed her, perhaps because Kari and Andrea didn’t bother sitting up for Howe, either, when Howe crashed twice on the stairs.

Perhaps in cyclocross there’s just no such thing as hitting a man when he’s down, because in ‘cross, every man goes down. Tires roll, chains jam, brakes clog – and that’s on a good day. Whether it’s the riders fault, or out of his control, doesn’t matter. There’s no gentleman’s rules because ‘cross, like the jungle, is no place for a gentleman. It’s survival, pure and simple.

What do you think? Drop a comment below.

 

 

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12 comments
Cyclocross Maga
Cyclocross Maga

good point devo.  but does it change if it's the final race of the world cup and the title is on the line and the leader has an issue?  it's not that different than the tour...just spread over a few months.

Devo
Devo

You are comparing a 2,000+ mile 21 day bike race to a 60 minute 10 mile bike race.  You shouldn't wait for anyone in a cx race. One hour in hell, right?  

JD Kimple
JD Kimple

Tom makes some good points while the spittle is flying!

At first I thought it was a crappy thing for Contador to do. For the next few days I thought he was such a jerk for that opportunistic move. But you guys make some good points. What if it was a day in the Alps and Cavendish was suffering so bad he fell off his bike. Would anyone wait? Would any of the Sprinters even wait? No, not a chance. Sorry, it's a part of racing. Did anyone wait for Sir Lance after he fell? Just his team mates.

Now I *do* appreciate a show of "sportsmanship". Lance waiting for Ulrich when he went over the edge I thought was a classy move. Did he need to? Not at all. Ulrich made a bad decision, or hit a patch of sand, or whatever. No one forced him off the road.  I do apreciate Lance's "code" of trying to be sporting and gentleman-like.

As a thought process, what they do in other sports? Would Carl Lewis had waited if a competitor's shoe came untied? Would Tiger Woods ease up if Mickleson wacked a great divot? Would ANYONE in NASCAR who was leading a race lift off the accelerator if Jimmie Johnson was in the #2 position and had a tire going down? To all these, the answer is of course a resounding "NO."

So now we get to all of our own interpretations of what is racing dirty and what is just plain crummy luck. As for Andy Schleck that was just a bad break. Tough luck, but he's a young kid. He'll win the Tour in the future. As for Alberto Contador, yesterday I thought he was a cad. Today I see him as what we all want to be - a fierce competitor.

JT Fountain
JT Fountain

I think the last paragraph in the write up just about sums it up...

Tom Simpson
Tom Simpson

I want to see Contador throw protesters off the TdF podium in 25 years. I want his role model to be big, bad Bernard and race everything (especially Paris-Roubaix) at least once while winning TdF. Take the lead position - don;t worry about wheelsucker sprinters - ride them off your wheel. I don't see that coming so...put him in the wanker pile. I've got an old calendar page next to my desk showing Anquetil and Bahamontes in some alp or Pyreneean climb in 1963 - still dirt road with golfball sized rocks scattered here and there. And they descended on that same quality road. Effing "Shudder".

This is why we have horse races - everybody gets to pick their own candidate. Me? I want Thor to come out of nowhere tomorrow and take like 3 hours on the Tourmalet and steal the jersey from the imposters. 3 hours would do it - and have 20 minutes in change so he could dog it in the TT saturday. Yellow and Green! He could have the blue jersey. 

chr15
chr15

Nicely put Tom. Is it still OK for me to dislike Contador though?

Tom Simpson
Tom Simpson

Yellow jersey always honored? Especially, Andy, when you stopped not once, not twice, but all 3 times when Sylvain flatted during the cobbles on stage 3. Right, Andy???? You Luxenbougois wuss. Cry me a river. "As long as I breathe, I attack" and I don;t care what your pathetic situation is. Take advantage of you??? Of course I'm going to take advantage! Race or get out of the way. "I race to win, not to please people" - Bert, just ride and don;t worry about your image - grind them under. That's what Bernie said when he was the steamroller.  Nobody waits EVER! That's what you have team mates for. If you don;t have team mates around, guess what? You lose. Tough luck. Just race your bikes - no unwritten rules - LeMond had to chase down Chiapucci in 1990 after he flatted and was "almost yellow". This jock "rule" about sportsmanship needs to be buried post haste. These "Sportsmen" tolerate all the cheaters who infiltrate back into the business of racing - and continue to rob them again of their chance at victory. I don't see much value of sportsmanship when I see so much cheating tolerated by the peoton on a regular basis.   We're going to slow down because you have to take a pee? I don;t think so, pal -  regardless of the color of your uniform. Get your team to pace you back, if they can. Passage de Gois, anyone?  There aren't do-overs in sports. It's called "Good luck" or "Bad luck" and no matter how phenomenal your organization/planning/and preparation is, tough luck happens. Andy Granatelli and his turbine-powered STP Special at Indy in the 60's - certain victory foiled when a $15 bearing failed a short 3 laps from the checkered flag. Tough luck, pal. Show us what you're made of in your return next year.    Umbriago......

lancejohnson
lancejohnson

I think it all comes down to what the etiquette for a particular discipline is. When Cancellara broke his chain last year at Flanders, no one waited. He was attacking on the Mur and that was the end of his race (he wasn't the race leader, But a race favorite). In 'cross, same thing. You deal with hellish conditions and who ever survives, how ever they survive is who wins.

Grand Tours are four weeks of scrawny guys dancing around with each other so that the 6 hours of the month that they have to really ride hard are not so painful. There are thousands of kilometers to cover and there are rules that govern what is socially acceptable and what is not. 

If GT racing was governed by the same social rules that 'cross is, then I would say Conti was fine. But it's not, and he is a scumbag. On the bright side, it's only the Tour: lotsa money, lotsa tv, lotsa waiting for very little action. I'll take 'cross any day.

chr15
chr15

I love the analogy with politics, "but one is about being first to the line, the other is being respected or liked" nut I am not sure which is which in this day and age :).

Personally politics disgusts me when so blatantly it's about 'staying in power', 'a second or third term, at any cost', 'jobs for the boys' and buying votes with benefits. We are big boys now, I can handle that I may have to pay higher taxes in order to see a doctor who is competent or that a policeman is available when my neighbour is threatened.

... digression... sorry...

Final TT... you mean like David Millar? ha! ... backtracking a little I guess TT's are slightly different in that there is no way that AC/AS would be able to gauge 'the wait' if sh1t happens. The TT is the only time in a Grand Tour where you are racing against the clock, the rest of the time you are racing against each other.

I have no qualms about AC's attack. If he has the legs and is stronger, AC should have it on the day, or in Paris. But what AC did was took advantage of Schleck at his weakest. He attacked his ONLY rival when he wasn't even able to ride his bike. Against the rules, no, but equally it is not fair play either or respectful to the race or to his contempories.

Surly Bastard
Surly Bastard

Road racing at the Tour level is like an 18th century duel between dandy gentlemen and fops. 'Cross is a bloody bar brawl between bums, complete with broken bottles, gouged eyes and kicking a man while he's down. Yeah I've ridden past the guy with the dropped chain, put guys through the tape - and I've been run over like a dog by the guys chasing me when I've fallen. And they didn't even stop to say they were sorry, either, the bastards. Of course after the bar brawl, aka cross race, there are always beers for all parties concerned when the it was over. Bet Andy and Alberto won't sharing a couple of Leffe's, when the Tour's done, ya think?

Dan Seaton
Dan Seaton

Mechanicals are part of the sport in 'cross, partly because they're rarely fluky accidents like Schleck's chain problem was, but usually have something to do with the conditions. In 'cross there are specific rules that govern how you recover from a mechanical, there are pits, and everybody knows that going in, being able to run to the pits to recover from a flat or broken chain or knowing how to ride on a rolled tire is part of the game.  Much like nobody felt an obligation to wait when things went wrong on the cobbles in Stage 3, in 'cross, how you handle yourself in adverse conditions and circumstances is the key to being a successful racer.  So, ok, we all probably agree that nobody is obliged to wait for an opponent with a mechanical.

But there are plenty of arcane rules and expectations nonetheless. Racers are expected to win in a sporting fashion. Those that don't get jeered. Look at how the crowd turned on Niels Albert after he rode Nys into the barriers in Niel last year. They really jeered him, and that turned out to be the race where Niel's season really started to unravel.  After that race it was clear that Albert was being frozen out by some of the other guys, who sometimes worked together to beat him up. You didn't see too many people helping him out.  And all this despite his protests that the whole thing was just a mistake, careless riding on his part, that he never meant to cut Sven off.

Same thing in Gloucester when Johnson chopped Page going into the sand.  The crowd jeered what they perceived to be a dirty move.  Johnson won, but it definitely didn't feel like a clean, well earned victory for a lot of fans.  The whole thing could have been an accident, but it doesn't matter, because it looked unsporting.

You can ask the guys who race here in Europe what they think of another racer and they'll say, "She's a hard worker, I like her," or, "He'll just suck your wheel until he can take advantage and never does any work."  (All this off the record, of course.)  There are no rules that say how you have to conduct yourself in a race, but there's etiquette, to be sure.

There's a reason some guys (Nys, Stybar) become fan favorites and others are forced to play the villain (Albert, Boom).  You say the wrong thing about your opponent, make an ugly move in a race and then take a win, proclaim yourself a superhero when you beat someone who flatted but might otherwise have beaten you and the fans don't forget it.  Suddenly you're the bad guy.  For whatever reason, cycling fans are a little obsessed with sportsmanship and (within the framework of your chosen discipline) that seems to be true across the board.

chr15
chr15

The question is about some Portland mudfest or a Sunday round of the London League the question is about whether Stybar or Nys would be happy winning over the other if in the crucial section of the race the other suffered a mechanical failure. Probably yes, disappointed that it happenend in that way but yes, because mechanical failures, flats and crashes are expected and even part of the 'cross scene, day in day out. Grand tours?

He should have waited or at least slowed!

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