What’s today’s obsession with “racing negatively”, “stealing the win”, “not showing heart” and other such comments? These statements usually involve a race where Cancellara finishes 2nd or 3rd, and the gist of it is that Cancellara rode his heart out, others sat on his wheel and he got beaten. I say utter nonsense.
You’re at the start of the race, you have a bag of tools and you need to figure out how to get to the finish first. Not everybody has the same bag of tools, so judging other riders by how similarly they ride to Cancellara makes no sense to me.
Let’s put it some other way, say Cancellara challenges you to a 100k ride you will be judged you on how you finish and your “heart”. So what do you do? As Cancellara takes off and winds up to 50kmh, you catch his wheel (if you’re lucky). Good for you, but of course you’re just a wheel sucker now, you’re showing no “heart”. So what do you do? In the first few k, do you take equal turns to show “heart” (assuming you can even get past him), only to blow up and be reduced to a sad little pile of pain by the side of the road? Or do you hang on to his wheel for dear life for as long as you can, and then ride the rest by yourself? I would suggest the latter, it’s not only the best way to achieve the best finishing result, it’s also the best way not to make a total fool of yourself.
While Gerrans and Nibali are no amateurs, they don’t have the bag of tools that Cancellara does either. They can’t show “heart” the way Cancellara does because they don’t have his “legs”. It seems unfair to me to deny riders the opportunity to show heart by making the “heart” test something only Cancellara can pass. Instead I would suggest you can show “heart” in many ways, by trying to keep up with a descending Cancellara even though you don’t have the same descending skills for example.
But enough about the heart, the worse one for me is “stealing the win”. Other than through cheating (as in breaking the agreed upon rules), there is no such thing. All 200 riders starting in Milan knew the rules, and knew where the finish was. They agreed that whoever got their first would be crowned the winner. They agreed you could ride in packs, in small groups, solo, anything goes. They specifically didn’t make a rule that forced you to do a certain percentage of the work when you were in a group, or that you can’t work on behalf of a teammate, or anything like that. They all agreed to that, set off, covered the whole distance and in the end Gerrans crossed the finish line first. End of story.
OK, one more thing, and I’ve written about this one at more length before. When a rouleur and a sprinter are in a breakaway, they both understand the rules of the game. The rouleur has to try to drop the sprinter, and the sprinter has to try to prevent that. Who ever succeeds wins, unless the rouleur generates an upset sprint (Vanmarcke over Boonen in the Omloop). The rouleur understands the sprinter won’t do much work, both because he doesn’t have the engine and because it makes him vulnerable for a jump from behind by the rouleur. It seems it is often the rouleur’s fans who don’t see it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the rouleur too, but I won’t fault the sprinter for playing to his own strength.