Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bike Racing, Honor and Sacrifice

This topic has been talked about ad nauseam and I've read all the different opinions and perspectives on whether Contador should have or shouldn't have waited and I figured I'd put in my own two cents. I'm not going to say that Contador should have waited for Schleck or that he was justified in attacking while his opponent was fixing his bike, but I am going to look at the implications of what Contador did and how it will affect his victory.

First, let's put this into a different perspective: say it was a local race series, and week after week, you race against the same guys and you consistently finish in third place. Then, one week, the guys who were consistently finishing first and second don't show up and you win the race. Sure, it's a victory, but it's not as sweet as the one where you bested the same guys that were beating you week after week. I think this is the same type of thing with Contador.

Is "El Pistolero" going to chalk up another TDF win? Undoubtedly. But, given the way he achieved  victory, will it truly be as sweet? I have to say no. That attack was motivated by fear and doubt and not the attack of a champion. Lady Luck handed Contador a gift and, because he hadn't been able to drop Schleck in previous attacks, he took full advantage. I'm not saying this was wrong, I just think it detracts from the elegance, purity and honor of his efforts and it turns the focus from Contador's exceptional fitness and prowess on the bike to a unfortunate incident that befell his main rival.

In my mind, when I visualize great victories, they inevitably involve sacrifice and risk, and with that sacrifice comes a sense of honor and a deep respect for your competition. Then there's also the satisfaction of knowing you gave absolutely everything to beat your competitors, who, in turn, were giving their all to try and beat you.

I've participated as a Cat 5/Cat 4 racer in both road and cyclocross races, and you come across all types of personalities. The ones I have the hardest time dealing with are the "winning is the only thing that matters" types. To me, this is the mentality that encourages sand bagging and un-sportsman-like conduct.  I think this type of behavior results from insecurity or maybe even laziness. This is the easy way, a short cut, and the path of least resistance. And, as most true cyclists can attest, this isn't a sport for those that look for the easy way.


  1. Well said but if Contador would have stopped, then the next two stages would have been ridden very differently. By continuing, Contador forced Schleck to attack on the next two stages. If they approached stage 17 with Contador behind 31 seconds and Contador had to attack, what would have happened then? That, we will never know. As it is right now, since Contador did not beat Schleck by 32 seconds in the TT, he won the Tour because of Schlecks chain problem.

    Nice blog!

  2. JC -

    Thanks for the comment! Yeah, we will never know if Schleck would have been able to stick it out. Right or wrong, I don't think I'm in the position to make that call, but it definitely made me reflect on those type of guys that you come across in rides/races. I think it's a matter of character, and Contador revealed something of himself when he decided to attack.

    We'll see what Andy does next year!

  3. In a race where tradition is so valued and honored, it's hard for me to say that Contador won this race outright. He took advantage of a mechanical situation and several times throughout this tour, the leader has waited for others with misfortunate to regain the peloton. Honor. Respect. Tradition. This is the Tour. Not seizing others unfortunate incidents.

  4. Hi Jason,

    Yeah, that's another take on it. It just goes to show that context is everything. When someone breaks tradition to blaze a new path or make an soem sort of advancement, we applaud them as pioneers. In this case, this was done at the expense of someone else, and done (in my opinion) out of desperation. That totally changes things and turns the pioneer into a honor-less opportunist.