First off, I love cycling’s unwritten rules, they’re part of what makes the sport so great. But they are also somewhat irrelevant. I mean, nobody ever bothered to even write them down! So riders have the option to ignore them and if we think they exist to instill some sort of honor and nobility into the sport, then surely it should be coming from within the rider to follow them, not imposed from the outside (or whatever other baloney high-minded concept you want to insert here).
Next up, what does the unwritten rule say anyway? That’s pretty tough to figure out, thanks to this pesky “unwritten” bit. But as I see it, cycling is a mechanical sport and mechanical problems are an integral part of the outcome. A flat tire may be considered bad luck, but there are also plenty of people who think you can influence it by hanging your tubulars for seven years in a dark, Belgian room and sprinkling them twice weekly with Westmalle Triple beer.
So should the rider who religiously goes through this rigmarole have to wait for the opponent who just wraps any cheap tire around his wheels? I don’t think so. Should the teams who pick suppliers based on product quality have to wait for teams who pick suppliers solely based on the maximum sponsorship fee? Again I don’t think so. Lastly, should the rider who studiously avoids crossing his chain from smallest ring to smallest cog in order to avoid chain suck have to wait for the guy who doesn’t pay attention to that sort of detail? Once more I don’t think so. Contador certainly doesn’t HAVE TO attack, but he doesn’t HAVE TO wait either.
How about “not atacking the yellow”? What’s so special about him anyway? Why not treat everybody with the same level of respect? Surely you can attack him at some point. If he’s taken down by a spectator, I would agree it’s really bad form (but even then, still allowed). But if he plays a real part in his own demise as was the case here, then maybe it’s not great form but it’s not really that bad either. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere in order to get a bit of racing squeezed into these three weeks.
Wait a second, I hear you think, didn’t you tweet that Contador should have waited? Actually no, I didn’t, I tweeted that he “gained a great chance to win, but lost a chance to win greatly”. And I think that brings us to the purpose of the unwritten rules. We have already established you don’t have to follow them, you won’t be DQ’d for ignoring them. But you can give your victories some extra shine by winning them in grand style, and by appearing magnanimous towards your opponents. So if you can win while waiting for your opponents a few times, so much the better. Of course there is some technique on how to best exploit this, but maybe that’s food for a later thought.
That said, I don’t think there are many riders who would give up a chance to win the Tour in order to appear magnanimous. Contador had no problem waiting for Schleck on stage 2, as he was probably 100% convinced he would drop him in the mountains later on anyway. Now that this didn’t happen, he’s probably feeling he may actually lose this Tour, so the “winning in grand style” concept had to be sacrificed in order to win for sure, regardless of style. And the way the written rules of the sport are, there’s nothing wrong with that. For us spectators, it probably means fireworks tomorrow, seeing an angry Schleck against a Contador who is not so sure of himself anymore.