Giro d’Italia. Good sportsmanship gone wrong.
Pro cycling is a beautiful sport with a impressive set of problems. One that would seem avoidable was on display during stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia.
Richie Porte of Team Sky, who was in third place overall, 22 seconds back on GC to Alberto Contador, had a flat five kilometers from the finish. The good news is that he quickly got a new wheel and the worse news was it was from the wrong person.
Fellow Aussi Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEdge passed Porte a wheel and Porte chased back, eventually losing 47 seconds. Sadly, this act of good sportsmanship was severally punished. Giro officials handed down a two minute penalty and took the air right out of Porte’s pink jersey hopes.
The No-Help-From-Others rule (and two minute punishment) is clearly stated in the UCI regulations and the Giro duly imposed it. However, as Sky team manager David Brailsford noted, there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
If you take the spirit approach you have a wonderful and inspired story of sportsmanship. Apply the law in a draconian manner and you look petty, short-sighted and insensitive to circumstance and intention.
Right now, everybody from Alberto Contador on down isn’t too impressed with the Giro’s interpretation of Porte’s wheel change. Twitter has blown up with rider protest and outrage. Ex rider Daniel Lloyd suggests everyone in the top 50 on GC swap wheels with another rider at the start of stage 11. Then everyone gets the same two minute penalty and we’re back to normal.
The Giro d’talia hasn’t done a great job with handling potential controversies. Their mismanaged, semi-not-really- neutralized stage in the snow last year is still a point of contention. Then again, Giro boss Mauro Vegni said he really doesn’t believe in an Adverse Weather Protocol and clearly he doesn’t believe in an Obvious Act of Sportsmanship Protocol. As Cannonade-Garmin’s boss Jonathan Vaughters tweeted, “what’s Italian for bullshit?”
The Giro occasionally likes to throw out their ideas for a “more humane” Giro but there wasn’t any appreciation or understanding for Porte’s situation. At little humanity was a far better story then a lot of harshness. If Contador seems to be saying it wasn’t a problem then he probably speaks for the rest of the peloton.
Not that the Tour de France is immune to the robotic and insenstive application of the rules. A few years back, American Ted King missed the time cut by seven seconds and Christian Prudhomme and company said Au Revoir, Ted. Perhaps they were getting their legal advice from five time Tour winner, ASO employee and curmugean Bernard Hinault. “No gifts” remains a signature phrase for the Badger.
Considering the endless and on-going doping sagas, the tenuous financial structure, the failures of the UCI to discipline teams like Astana, the inability to attract large new sponsors, the sport could use some positive spin. Any junior public relations intern would tell the Giro that a good sportsmanship story would increase Giro Love around the world.
Then again, this is a sport that habitually shoots itself in the foot. Wheel change meets clueless wheel of justice.