Tour Ethics: Should You Kick Your Rival When He’s Down? *UPDATE: Contador Apologizes
Bike racing is not like other sports, and the Tour de France is not like other bike races. In the Tour, there is a long-standing tradition that says you do not attack when your rival goes down, whether he goes down as a result of a crash or a mechanical difficulty. This tradition exists because it is considered poor form to win because of the temporary difficulty of your opponent. The race should be won based on strength and skill and strategy (and other tres importante words beginning with S). This tradition goes double when the rival in question wears the fabled Maillot Jeaune. Thus, the peloton waited for Lance Armstrong when he crashed in previous years and Armstrong himself waited for opponents when they crashed. And Armstrong is not really known to be an especially nice guy.
That’s what makes today’s events so difficult to understand.
Contador was booed as they put the yellow jersey on him at the end of the ride. And this in an area of France that is near to Spain, his home country. You have to work hard to generate that much bad blood.
Contador says he didn’t know Schleck’s chain was off. Schleck says, “my stomach is filled with anger.” One thing’s for sure: the next few days should be very interesting.
*Update: Contador apologized to Schleck and the two shook hands. It’s nice to see this kind of classy move from Contador, who appeared to not only take advantage of Schleck’s misfortune, but also appeared to be lying about it when he said he didn’t know Schleck was having a difficulty. I’m glad Contador acknowledged the mistake and that there will be no continuing bad feelings between these two great riders.
Here is Contador’s video apology:
It’s a classy move, as I said, but it leaves some lingering issues:
First, Contador claims credit for stopping the peloton when Andy crashed on the stage to Spa. Most people think that credit belongs to Fabian Cancellara (holder of the yellow jersey at the time) and Saxo Bank, though it’s obvious that the decision could not have been made without the full cooperation of Contador.
Second (and this is the biggest problem) he throws some blame Schleck’s way for not waiting for him when the field was split on the later stage after the cobblestones. The problem there is that no one, even Contador himself, suggested that Schleck should have waited at that time. Further, there is an enormous difference between the two incidents: Contador hadn’t crashed and had no mechanical difficulty, he was merely caught behind the crash of other riders. The case could easily be made that this was his own fault for not being up front with his team where he should have been. Also (and this is the critical difference), Schleck didn’t attack at that time, the way Contador attacked in the Pyrenees. That makes all the difference in the world, and makes Contador’s apology seem like not so much an apology as a massive rationalization built on half-truths.
Despite that, he did say he was sorry, and I’m glad for that.