Crashes, Go Slows and the Patron

Today’s Stage 2 of the Tour de France was unorthodox to say the least. Again, as they did yesterday, crashes animated the stage. Race favourites Wiggins, Contador, Kreuziger, Armstrong, both Schlecks, Basso, and Vande Velde all fell victim to the slippy roads in the wet conditions. By far the worst affected G.C. favourite was Christian Vande Velde who finished 5:53 down on the yellow jersey group.

Both Schlecks also found themselves chasing back on after crashing twice within 200 metres. Luckily, their team mate Fabian Cancellara was wearing the yellow jersey. As the acting patron of the peloton he forced the front of the race practically to a stand still so that the fallen could catch back up. This well intentioned act from Cancellara resulted in him relinquishing his hold on the yellow jersey to Sylvain Chavanel who was busy up the road soloing home for the stage win. A particularly selfless act given the circumstances, as Cancellara’s ultimate goal for this year’s Tour was to wear the Maillot Jaune as the race rides over the cobbles on Stage 3. My question is whether Cancellara had the authority to enforce this decision on (what remained of) the peloton.

This type of incident occurred in the Tour before in 2003 when Lance Armstrong hooked his handlebar’s on a musette bag held by a spectator and came crashing down. His main rival Jan Ullrich went up the road, but between the German and Tyler Hamilton the front of the race slowed down until the Texan caught back up. Hamilton said at the time:

It’s an unwritten rule that if the Maillot Jaune crashes, you give him a chance to get back.

However, on that day it was the fallen’s rivals who made the decision to wait. Cancellara, although clad in yellow is nevertheless, a team mate of the Schlecks. Surely the decision to wait for them should have been made by a rival of the Schlecks and not from a team mate with a vested interest.

There have been some reports that there was some sort of oil spill on thed escent which caused most of the crash related mayhem. If this is the case, then some of today’s behaviour is somewhat excusable. However, if the crashes were merely caused by the wet conditions then it is simply a matter of poor bike handling skills or bad luck. In which case I completely disagree with Cancellara’s move to orchestrate a truce in the peloton until the Schleck’s caught back on.

Any rider aspiring to win the Tour de France needs to have a certain set of skills. Descending in wet conditions should be part of this skill set along with the more heralded skills of climbing and time trialling. If a rider slips and falls himself then it is his own mistake and other riders should be allowed to capitalise. If a rider falls because a crash has occurred in front of him and he is brought down as a result, then he is still not entirely blameless. Perhaps he chose the wrong wheel to follow and he should have chosen a more trustworthy descender to follow, or perhaps he should have positioned himself further up in the group in order to limit the potential for getting caught behind a crash.

Robbie Hunter said after today’s stage:

In the northern classics most of the bunch are used to riding on these roads. Most of the Tour peloton never ever do the classics.

If he’s referring to the Ardennes classics then he is incorrect, most of the Tour do ride these races. If he’s referring to the traditionally wetter muckier more treacherous variety of classics that take place a couple of weeks earlier then he is correct. A lot of the Tour peloton don’t ride this races. But they should. Everybody has known the route of this Tour since last year. Riders racing schedules should have been organised accordingly. Why is it then that Lance Armstrong is the only rider who rode one of these races this year. The rider’s who don’t usually ride in these conditions should have taken the opportunity to familiarise themselves with it earlier in the year.

As for Cancellara’s decision (in conjunction with the race organisers) to neutralise the sprint finish, I’m sure I’m not the only one that has a huge problem with this. Again, the riders all knew the route, and it’s Northern Europe after all, rain can’t be ruled out on any day of the year. Surely if the riders or directeur sportifs had a problem with the route or particular road furniture then they could have aired these grievances months ago. Apart from fans finding the stage end disgruntling, I’m sure there’s a team manager or two who aren’t too happy. Take Quick Step for example. Instead of bloggers and journalists writing about Chavanel and Pineau (myself being no exception) holding all three of the Tours major jersey between them, as well as taking the stage win, we’re all discussing Cancellara and Saxo Bank. Thus, limiting the exposure that the Quick Step team deserve and the Quick Step brand has invested in.

But the biggest loser of the day is probably Thor Hushovd. The race organisers decided that everyone except the stage winner Chavanel would not be awarded green jersey points. Hushovd managed to avoid the crashes and stay in the front bunch all day. His main green jersey rival Mark Cavendish didn’t crash, he was simply dropped. But due to circumstances beyond Hushovd’s control he was unable to capitalise on his rivals lack of climbing ability, which he should have been allowed to do. As his team mate Brett Lancaster said this evening:

Team worked hard today for Thor to get some points for the green jersey. It was all for nothing in the end because some riders crashed.

He’s one of my favourite riders in the peloton but Cancellara has a lot of questions to answer as there are many people losing out because of his actions today.

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  1. lorcan - July 5, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

    Excellent piece. To be honest I thought Cancellara was an absolute disgrace today. Its the Tour de France, the ultimate cycling race, riders are supposed to be prepared for all things! I’m surprised Luis Leon Sanchez didn’t go up the road as he was at the head of the field.

  2. irishpeloton - July 5, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

    Cheers Lorcan. It seems that the general consensus is that there was some sort of oil or diesel spill on the road. In that case you can (almost) forgive them for sitting up and waiting for the riders who crashed. But I can’t see any reason for neutralising the sprint at the end. What was the point? A protest against the oil spill? That was hardly the race organisers fault. A protest against the weather? Thousands of fans will now go home disappointed having waited all day in rainy conditions. Fans at home will be disappointed and disgruntled. And, as I said, some directeur sportifs will be raging that their riders couldn’t capitalise. Quote from Hushovd there on CyclingNews:

    “Why should Cancellara decide? He’s a rider like us. I’ve been riding all day for the stage win and the green jersey and I end up with nothing. 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?”

    Other riders however, will be delighted, like Cavendish. If he ends up winning the Green Jersey he’ll owe a lot to Fabian Cancellara.

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