Monday, July 19, 2010


Etiquette is a weird subject.

Different customs often mystify me.

For example...

Let's say you are sailing in a long Laser regatta. Currently you are trailing the leader by one point. In the final beat of one race you are sailing just behind the regatta leader in about 10-12 knots of breeze when he capsizes.

Do you...

(a) wait until he recovers from the capsize and then continue racing

(b) sail past him to gain at least one point on him in the overall regatta score.

(Note - there is no safety issue. Your competitor is in no danger.)

Of course the answer is (b). Capsizes are one of the risks of the game. Maybe he had some equipment failure or maybe he was clumsy or maybe it was just bad luck. Whatever the reason, you have every right to continue sailing and secure an advantage over him. You might need that point later in the regatta.

But... apparently in cycling the answer is (a). The cycling world is in uproar today because Albert Contador took the lead in the Tour de France when he didn't wait for Andy Schleck after Mr. Shleck's chain fell off. From what I can gather there is an "unspoken rule" in pro cycling that you don't take advantage of a fellow competitor's misfortune.

How strange!

I don't get it.

Can somebody please explain the reason for the different etiquette between the two sports. Is it because cycling is a kinder, gentler, more "gentlemanly" sport than sailing?

PS. No need to explain why George Bush is kissing that Saudi fellow in the picture. We all know exactly why he was doing that.


Baydog said...

Bush was obviously sheiking him down for something.

I don't get it either. I thought the main idea of competing was trying to win.

Sam Chapin said...

Try and figure "fundemental rule 2". Our Fundemental rule 2 regatta rules= The Fundamental Rule 2 rules were in effect. Youth and women start first and the others later. No roll tack. No roll gybe. First one to the mark rounds first. No shouting. No yelling. The first near finish wait for the others so we all finish together. We help each other get the boats out after racing and then go and share food.... and maybe drink.

my2fish said...

first question... why is riding a bike a sport? just kiddin.

that makes no sense to me while you would stop and wait, though. equipment failures are just part of the game, the sport.

cheers, my2fish

Tillerman said...

Another question. Even if this weird piece of cycling etiquette makes no sense to you can you think of any other racing sport which has a similar practice?

David said...

Makes me think of the time I delayed my gybe in really heavy weather to see if Charles would execute his successfully. He didn't. I chicken gybed and went on to win the race. Didn't feel shameful at all.

O Docker said...

This is one of those quaint and quirky traditions of the Tour de France that strikes everyone as baffling at first.

But I don't think capsizing in a Laser regatta is quite a parallel situation. Capsizing is usually caused by a lapse in form, but a flat tire, slipped chain, or even a fall often isn't a bike rider's fault.

Those are considered 'bad luck' events and the tradition is that you don't attack the leader when he's down due to bad luck.

Suppose you had been battling it out with a competitor in a regatta and were virtually tied for first place after two weeks(!) of racing. You're on the final beat of the final race, half a boat length apart. The winner will be the one who times the final tack to the layline better, or whoever is better able to fight their way into clean air.

Suddenly, your rival's rudder pops out of the gudgeons. Would you feel better about your victory if you luffed up while he got hoooked up again and then you beat him or if you just sailed off to an easy win?

In any other sport this sounds nuts - especially today when top level competition is almost always about big money. But it's one of those traditions - perhaps a holdover from simpler times - that makes the Tour the Tour.

Here's an article that explains the tradition a little better.

Vive la France!

Pat said...

Stopping could also be hazardous if it creates an obstruction for others behind you and could change the game for them.

BeachComber said...

I believe in this situation it's considered ok to ride on "at tempo" but not to attack. Also, the courtesy only extends to the wearer of the yellow jersey.

There are other rules in cycling that encourage this mindset. If there is a crash within a certain distance of the finish, anyone affected by it who was with or ahead of the peloton is given the same finishing time as that of the main pack. Or something like that.

Stephen Paul Washburn said...

Actually, in the old days of yacht racing East Coast style, if a competitor lost a rig or suffered any kind of catastrophic damage, the rest of the fleet dropped out to race again another day!

Tillerman said...

O Docker asks...

"Suddenly, your rival's rudder pops out of the gudgeons. Would you feel better about your victory if you luffed up while he got hoooked up again and then you beat him or if you just sailed off to an easy win?"

I certainly wouldn't luff and wait while another sailor hooked up his rudder again in a situation like that in a real race (and assuming that the rudderless sailor wasn't in imminent danger.) And I don't think anyone would consider it bad sportsmanship to beat another sailor who had a piece of "bad luck" like that.

Often of course gear failure isn't really bad luck, but a failure on the part of the skipper to be meticulous about boat maintenance and preparation. But in sailing I think we just accept occasional "bad luck" as part of the sport.

And in sailing we certainly don't go as far as that linked article says cycling does... such as stopping racing while the leader has a pee or goes off for a "glass of champagne" with his wife.

Baydog said...

East Coast of where? WhoVille?
Kill or be killed.
If Cindy Lou was dismasted, she will be bought drinks at the bar by the WINNER of the race, who kept his or her rig intact through whatever conditions the race presented. Please

Baydog said...

Now you've got me going. This kind of philosophy is fueling the current mindset surrounding youth sports in America. Used to be that if you won, you got a trophy and everyone else went home to lick their wounds. Period. Now, you get a trophy up to tenth, or worst, last place, just for participating. Where's the motivation? Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

O Docker said...

My question was mostly rhetorical.

I can't think of another sport, including sailing, where there's any expectation for a participant to hold back until a competitor's mechanical problems are fixed. I tried to pose an example of how that might work in a sailing situation.

I don't know exactly how this tradition came about in cycling.

The riders who can compete successfully in long stage races have always been a pretty small group of athletes. In the days before live TV helicopter coverage brought a lot more money and attention to the sport, these guys spent long, lonely months competing together out in some pretty desolate places.

A certain camaraderie developed and, from it I think, a rough yet chivalrous code of conduct, as much for self-preservation as for anything else. The guy who waited for a competitor one day could well find himself in the ditch the next.

At any rate, this is just one example of what makes the sport unique and fascinating to some of us. Others just like shaving their legs and wearing tights.

Baydog said...

O Docker, I thought I asked you not to tell anyone.

Tillerman said...

There's also that weird peloton thing where they all cycle together so hey can all go faster. I read somewhere that if anyone violated the unwritten code of conduct then the whole peloton would retaliate and refuse to cooperate with the offender.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Schleck says, "My stomach is full of anger and I want to take my revenge." There are also accusations flying around that back in the early stages Contador waited for Schleck when the latter crashed; but didn't Schleck didn't return the favor the next day when Contador crashed.


I wonder. Is there any chance this is all some kind of publicity stunt?

Anonymous said...

Your answers are too obvious ... the more difficult one would be:
a) Do you blatantly 'moon' him as you pass by offering a single fingered victory salute to boot,
b) Secretly flash a wicked grin while sailing close enough for only him to see your one bared cheek,
c) Look as if you are concerned for his well-being offering to lend a hand (something you have no intent on doing)
Perhaps those are "collegiate rules?"

PJ said...

Think of this "You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors", then understand that when you road race (bikes), once dropped an attacking Peloton, your chances of getting back are very, very low.

Once time is lost for a GC contender, it’s very difficult to regain that time in a race that uses cumulative time, not points per race in sailboat racing. Also, you can’t just one tack a beat and get back in the race, nor discard a day’s finish. How many 21 day sailing events have no discards? Why do we have discards?

So the leader of the TdF, is given respect to continue as the strongest rider in the race, if that is the case and not loose his position due to mechanical issues. This is not the case if he is dropped and is no longer strong enough to keep up with the group. Also, if the Peloton has allowed a break to continue up the road, ahead of the Peloton, those racers are free to continue to race to the finish.

Anonymous said...

PJ gives a good comparison of the TDF and long regattas. The waiting or more accurately no attacking etiquette in cycling is only in place in the 3 21day grand tours and only for the leaders.

This case is a bit borderline as Schleck, the guy with the problem, is the guy who launched the attack, so he contributed to his breakdown. All gloves are off when the race is full on. The negative reactions are from 1) it is clear Contador saw the problem 2) he later denied it 3) he greatly increased his attack after he saw the problem 4) his more experienced teamate, Vino, was ahead of Contador saw the problem, ceased his attack but continued at the pre attack pace.

This is a clear case of winning the race and losing some respect.

Tillerman said...

Anonymous: Insulting a fellow sailor who had capsized or had a breakdown is something I would never do.. unless of course he deserved it.

Tillerman said...

PJ, thanks for the best explanation so far. The fact that dropping out of the peloton is so significant in cycling, and the difference between a cumulative time race and low points scoring with a discard are surely two major factors leading to this different etiquette between the two sport.

My readers are so smart.

George A said...

NYC bike snob
explains all:Contador's move was tremendously controversial, since in the French sporting world any action that results in victory is considered unseemly. (Thomas Voeckler is exempt from this due to his appropriately disproportionate failure-to-success ratio.)

There you have it!

O Docker said...

PJ's points also begin to explain just how complex strategy becomes in stage racing.

The dynamics of riding in a group and playing that against the terrain are major factors.

Despite the anger in his belly, and the fact that this was a mountain stage (where he would normally excel), today would have been a poor day for Schleck to try to gain some time, due to the long, flat stretch after the last climb, where any gains made on the climbs would have been neutralized by the peloton afterwards.

Thursday's final mountain stage (that ends on a mountain summit) will be his last real chance to recapture the lead. But, curiously, if he doesn't gain an advantage of at least two minutes, he will probably still lose overall because Contador is stronger in the individual time trial - and that will be on Saturday.

Yesterday's slipped chain could well end up being the deciding factor in a three-week bike race.

It's quite a wonderful game of chess.

There are parallels in sailing. Some are better upwind, some downwind. Some like playing the waves and chop, some don't. Some read the wind better. Some are better duking it out in a crowd at the buoys. Some have a magic sense of always knowing the right place to be and of managing to get there ahead of everyone else.

In the end, you've got to do it all well to win consistently.

Anonymous said...

Tillerman -- I suggest you go to Velonews and read the daily commentary. It may open your eyes, or maybe not.

Tim said...

This sort of thing does happen in sailing but normally when the boat with gear failure or capsized is at risk or may need assistance.
I remember this happend a while ago at a club race when one boat had a very mior collision that resulted in the leeward shroud snapping and two of the fleet escorted the stricken boat to the shore. Once there they helped him drop his mast safely and then towed him back up the shore to the club.
The failure was probably mostly down to fatigue but the reponse of fellow competitors who went to help was a fine example of sportsmanship.

Tillerman said...

Well said Tim. It is of course a tradition of sailing (and for that matter one of the Racing Rules) that competitors will go to the aid of another sailor in distress. And that happens whether you are racing in the Southern Ocean of on your local puddle.

Tillerman said...

Anonymous - thanks for telling us about VeloNews. Interesting commentary there including one article with five reasons why it's wrong to vilify Contador.

Reading between the lines at VeloNews I am even more convinced now that this all the work of some evil PR genius trying to drum up interest in a good guy/ bad guy showdown between the "warmer, more relaxed, and more human" Schleck and the "reserved, calculating" Contador.

Pat said...

A few years ago a couple of boats we were racing had a moderately severe collision (no injuries but a danger of sinking and we heard the fiberglass crunch from 500 feet away). We and another boat quit racing to help with ferrying people, towing, escorting etc.

Baydog said...

I admit, all of the examples of good sportsmanship are admirable, especially when boats crunch, masts crash down, and rudders and daggerboards sink to the bottom of the 100 ft. deep lake. But where does one draw the line between being a good sport and being competitive? If someone's life is not threatened and they will be back to the club before you are because of their misfortune, sail on man, accept that pewter bowl, and buy the not so fortunate a couple of beers. Right?

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I am absolutely with Baydog's answer on this one.

To answer the question about other sports: in the sometimes un-chivalric game of fútbol, when a player is injured and the officials do not whistle to stop the action, another player will kick the ball out of bounds. Play is eventually resumed by a player from the other team throwing the ball in. His team mate will then kick the ball out of play so as to nullify the advantage.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Now, a little painful self-disclosure, just because I have to be honest:

In our younger days, Trophy Wife and I were in a Laser Regatta. In the last race, I sailed by her only because she had capsized. Turtled, in fact. Later it developed that her dagger board had floated away from her, preventing her from righting. The fog rolled in. Bigger boats in other fleets approached. Presently, she hailed a fisherman who rescued her. Can you imagine what I feel like today, every time she re-tells the story? Especially, the part about her borrowing some one else's board and beating my socks off the following day?

Alex said...

Hey, ok, so I aint no Legstrong. But as a youth growing up, like sailing, any two of us going in the same direction at the same time was a race. And even in sanctioned youth racing events, peloton or no, I raced a bike bought from Target. I was usually considered the rider to beat, yeah Tillerman, I was "That Guy".

However, a cheap bike from Target is also a source of many equipment failures; and not once did any pack slow down on my behalf. Especially if I was leading the attack group and was ahead of the pack. I didn't have a support wagon to bring me parts, and I didn't have teammates to slow everyone down either. (though I did get a replacement chain thrown at me by another racer once). I either pulled out a MacGyver (once using a piece of a 2by4 off the highway with a hunk of duck tape to secure my bent handlebar)or withdrew from the race and called it a day. If I was able to get back going, I rode like hell to catch those b*&^%rds that were getting away from me.

Cycling, sailing, they're both sports, you win some, you lose some, but a courtesy, is nothing but that, a courtesy. So, the PR guy should get off his moneygrubbing loudspeaker and the racers should (as far as I know, they are all men), and the racers should proverbial and literally "Man Up" or s&*k it up and quite complaining cause they could be working jobs in cubicles like the rest of us schmucks!

Peter Durant, Executive Director, Community Boating Center said...

Etiquette in sports goes beyond cycling. Here is a football (soccer) example:

During the World cup final, I noticed that the Netherlands kicked a long ball at Spain's goal. It took the keeper a little by surprise, he knicked it with his thumb even though it was on its way out for a Spain goal kick. The announcer said 'I doubt Netherland will take the full advantage of that corner.' The Netherland player sure enough kicked the corner gently to the opposing keeper with a box free of players waiting for a cross. Is this some unwritten soccer etiquette I am unfamiliar with? Please explain.

Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham:
The answer is what happened before the restart. The Spanish keeper had the ball in his possession, but his teammate had been injured in a collision (with the keeper). The keeper threw the ball past the touchline so that play would be stopped, and the trainers could check out his teammate.

Sporting tradition (not the laws of the game) calls for the ball to be returned to Spain (the team in possession at the time of the injury) when the ball is again put in play. The Dutch complied, but when they kicked the ball back to the keeper, the ball took a surprising bounce and left the field for a corner (as you noticed.) The Dutch player sportingly again returned the ball to the keeper.

Note: the referee cannot enforce this unwritten code of conduct. It is up to the players to follow the sporting tradition. As Netherlands, to its credit, did.

Pandabonium said...

Tastes like crude oil.

EVK4 said...

There is a bit of this in sailing.

I remember in some America's Cup years back, one boat broke a mast and the other team made a great show of bringing their spare mast to that team to give them a chance to win the Cup. I think Matthew Modine was the skipper of the busted up boat. Might have been Jennifer Grey, they kind of look alike to me.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...


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