Did you know: the Code.
Etiquette is an integral part of professional cycling. Unwritten rules abound, such as there shall be no attacking or acceleration through a feed zone (it would be way too dangerous) or during a nature break. And then there is the family pass: if the race is going through a rider’s home town or village, he will be allowed to ride off the front and stop and say hello. Obviously, not if it is in a critical part of the race, And obviously on the understanding that he doesn’t use the advantage to attack.
Bad luck befalls all riders at some point, and if one of the big GC contenders crashes or has a mechanical, the field will fan out and wait for them to rejoin the peloton. We have seen this numerous times over the years: Armstrong waiting for a crashed Ullrich, Ullrich waiting for a fallen Armstrong, Wiggins slowing the field when Cadel Evans and a dozen or more riders had punctured on thumbtacks mischieviously thrown on the road; there are few big-money sports where the spirit of fair play is as strong.
The principle of winning by being the best, not by others’ misfortune runs strongly in pro cycling. In the 1991 Tour, three-time champ (and still the only American to have won the Tour de France) Greg Lemond inherited Yellow after Rolf Sorensen crashed and broke his collarbone on the fifth stage. Unable to continue, even though he was leading the race on GC, his golden fleece passed over to Lemond, who refused to wear it for Stage 6, out of respect.
Even the organisation has some fair-play rules, written and unwritten. The last 3km of the flat stages is neutralised, meaning that if a rider has a mechanical or a crash – and we see some monster mass lie-downs as the speed winds up – he is given the time of the group he finished with, so he doesn’t get penalized by the crazy sprinters, or bad luck, or a combination of the two. You will often spot the GC contenders mixing it up with the big lead-out trains. This is not to win the stage, it is just to stay out of trouble – the big crashes usually happen from around rider 30, and further back.
The other area the officials are good at turning a wise blind eye is as riders move up through the convoy of following cars after a crash or a puncture. They don’t mind the riders dropping in behind a team car for a few moments, for a boost of speed, but will penalize them if they stay too long, or if they have simply got dropped and are taking the mickey. They also don’t mind one of the enduring images of the Tour: the Long Bottle. This is where the rider takes a bottle, or an energy bar, from the driver of the car – quite legally – and the driver takes a few seconds to let go, as he accelerates slightly. Again, if they overdo it they will get nailed, but for most it is a welcome second of help.
Visiting the medical car – check the oldish footage below to appreciate the skill of the rider, the driver and the doc! – is done at race speed, and the rider can hang on to it for treatment so long as he gains no advantage, which is the same for having team mechanics work on the bikes while they are riding: no advantage, no penalty.