Bicycling’s Gear Ed, Oli Munnik, delves into the murky tradition of waiting for the Yellow Jersey.
As the 2017 Tour de France contenders made their way up the Mont du Chat, the gruelling fourth and final climb of this year’s Queen stage, Fabio Aru broke tradition and attacked Chris Froome with full knowledge that the lanky Briton’s hand was raised, signalling a flat rear tyre, which would require a bike change.
Commentators Mat Keenan and Robbie McEwen were outraged. In their opinion, the honour of the Yellow Jersey was being blatantly disrespected.
With Aru’s attack all but neutralised by the other contenders as well as by the re-formation of the Sky Train (reminiscent of the dominance of the US Postal team) – the Italian national champion would have made no friends with the timing of his attack.
Around the TV a lively debate ensued … some saying it was ridiculous that race tactics, in the world’s biggest annual sporting event, were held to ransom by an unwritten rule which, in a nutshell, protects the yellow jersey wearer from any form of time-loss as a result of a crash or mechanical issue – self inflicted or not.
At first my argument hinged on the adage that ‘it’s just how things are’, one doesn’t attack the yellow jersey, finished and klaar. But as we delved deeper into it, the whole subject in fact appeared to be rather murky. Should riders not take advantage by attacking, or at least maintain their current speed, making a rider pay for a mistake?
Let me begin by saying up front, there should always be absolute respect for any race leader who is involved in an incident out of his control – i.e. a massive bunch crash that neutralises the field or a spectator’s handbag that catches a rider’s shifter (Armstrong/Mayo/Ulrich 2003 TDF).
The murkiness begins when, for instance Froome and Thomas ride off the road on Stage 8 and the bunch sit up and wait. Surely instances like this, where rider error is involved, should be taken advantage of? Tom Dumoulin was certainly given no favours during his infamous ‘natural break’ in this year’s Giro – and don’t forget, Mr Dumoulin had no such thing as a Sky Train to protect him.
There are of course instances when waiting is the correct thing to do. But, as time marches on I believe this tradition will be eroded, as the ever-increasing pressure builds on riders to perform for their team and their own self-esteem.
Understandably, in this debate there will always be riders and fans sitting on either side of the fence – especially when your man is in yellow. The wise words of Greg Minnaar go a long way in helping to understand the cruel nature of sport, where things simply can’t go your way all the time.
The day before Aru’s attack in the TDF, SA Downhill legend Minnaar was in the hot seat at the Lenzerheide World Cup in Switzerland. Donning the white shirt of the current overall World Cup leader, there was only one rider to go, Aaron Gwinn.
Gwinn was green (indicating his time was better than Minnaar’s) at all but the last split. As Greg was anticipating 2nd, the American flatted, blowing any chances of victory. When asked about his feelings of winning in this manner, Greg was all praise for Gwinn but ended by saying that, despite Gwinn’s brilliant run, “the clock stops at the finish line and in the end, that’s what counts”.
Translating this to the Aru debate, should Greg have given Gwinn a second go down the mountain because he was ‘green’ before flatting? Absolutely not.
In the same vein, should the riders in the race for green, sprint in painted lanes so that the Green Jersey wearer cannot be boxed in? Absolutely not, tactics and a large degree of luck are needed.
With this perspective in mind, and the blatant actions of Aru, I am willing to bet that the tradition of waiting for the Yellow Jersey is being steadily eroded. Only time will tell if Aru was ahead of his time, or a bad sport.
Ciao ciao, Oli
Oliver Munnik is a former professional mountain biker. Pinner by trade, he travels the world testing the latest and greatest cycling products as Bicycling’s Gear Editor.