21 July 2011

Rules are meant to be broken

Or we'd be down to only 80 riders

As much as Thomas Voeckler's epic hold onto the yellow jersey grabbed at our hearts strings today at the finish of Stage 18, way back down the mountain suffering the effects of the impressive effort by Andy Schleck's eventual stage win, were 88 riders in the autobus. The pack at the back came in after the official cut-off time. 
As Andy climbed faster, he not only changed the overall standings of the race, he forced the Tour de France organizers to break (or stretch, or be forced to accommodate) their own rules. The cut-off time was set at a 9% increase in time over Andy's time. The 88 riders rolled in 35min 40sec after Andy, missing the official cut-off time by 2min 33sec. What does it mean to miss the cut-off time?
If it is a lone rider or a small pack of riders behind the cut-off time, they will be eliminated from the race entirely. If it is a large group the rule is applied subjectively. After today's race we could have been facing an individual time trial on Saturday with half the number of riders, or the procession down the Champs Elysees on Sunday in Paris, with a measly 80 riders. That would have been a lot of pomp and circumstance for 3 to 4 riders on each team. The rules needed to be adapted today.

It could have been the traffic jam on the road that hindered the 88 riders from arriving on time. But I think someone should have gotten on those well-used race radios to tell one of those 88 riders to start pedaling a little faster. Not that it is easy to go faster up a 10% grade, across a road lined with buses and crazy fans, but that was a significant happening in the Tour de France today, which in the end - did not happen. 

Mark Cavendish was one of those riders in this last gruppetto today. It seems rules applied to sprinters are often subjective. He was not eliminated but penalized. As a penalty Mark Cavendish had 20 points taken away from his total sprinter's points and quest for the green jersey. Why 20 points? I don't know, but every man in the last group received the same penalty. As always in the Tour de France, we can count on the sprinters to add color and controversy to the race. 
Mark Cavendish is still in the lead for the green jersey, but is now only 15 points ahead of Rojas (who made it to the top of the Galibier before the cut-off time and retained all of his points). The race for the green jersey is not over yet.
Meanwhile the fans on the roads received 34'40" of steady entertainment as riders were spread out along the mountain today. What a day it must have been for fans on the slopes of the Alps. Study the stage standings from stage 18 today, it is fascinating to see the damage that was done to the main field of riders over 4 mountain passes. There are clearly climbers ... and there are clearly not climbers.

Rules are subtle things
Found on the official LeTour website under rules: "The rules are the bible for a sporting competition. Through their balance and subtleties they must ensure equality, motivate the riders and help spectators and viewers to understand the event." Today's bending of the rules ensured that spectators had riders remaining to watch - it was a rule worth bending. If they are in the business of bending rules, I would have liked to see the rule bent to offer Hoogerland a lift to the finish line the other day after his terrible forced accident.

"Use your French" 
Our good friend Jean Paul often tells us this. His intent is to kindly instruct us to act a little less like an tightly-wound American and a little more like a tolerable Frenchman. Which means at times, it is appropriate, and far more effective, to break the rules and apologize later. "Ooh, I am sorry, I did not know."It is a good cultural lesson to grasp while in France, and a fun way to remember to "use your French".

Update post post 07/22/11: It happened again today on Stage 19, with a smaller group of riders at the back. They too received another 20-point penalty. This time Rojas was with Cavendish (both were penalized) and Gilbert was not (no penalty). The current green jersey points are Cavendish (280), Rojas (265), Gilbert (230) after Stage 19.  

Björn Leukemans #214 (Bel) (Vancasoleil-DCM) was indeed eliminated for coming in outside the time limit on Stage 19 (not a DNF). He was the only rider to be eliminated due to time-limit on Stage 18 and Stage 19 in the Alps. Leonardo Bertagnolli (ITA) (Lampre-ISD) is listed as a withdrawal (DNF) during Stage 18. Complete 2011 Tour de France withdrawal list