Bike Racing and Sportsmanship: What Are the Rules?

The expulsion of eight badminton players at the 2012 London Olympics caused a bit of controversy in the sports world so I thought I'd look at it from a cycling perspective. My opinion and apparently the opinion of my sport is that strategy goes deeper than just an individual game or race. It's like chess. It's all about sacrificing at a lower level in order to achieve a greater victory.

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Imagine if chess players were ejected for purposefully allowing a pawn to be taken.

Imagine if Bradley Wiggins had been expelled from the Tour de France because he didn't try to win every single stage.

Or if Peter Sagan had been similarly punished for not giving his all to the general classification (G.C.) hunt.

There is a subtle art to cycling strategy, usually perfectly legitimate but at other times a bit on the shady side.

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The Sunny Side

In the first pro race my team ever won, we made a "breakaway deal". A breakaway deal is when the guys in the break, for a variety of strategically sound reasons, decide to give the day to a particular rider.

This was a road stage; the second to last day of a 5 day stage race. A well-known rider had a solid hold on the G.C. He would have to defend it on the day's road stage and on the criterium on the final day.

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The breakaway that day was just two riders, my guy and the G.C. leader. From a distance it might have seemed like an even playing field. A two-man race. Mano a mano. But in fact, the numbers were stacked quite differently.

My rider had an unseen advantage in terms of winning that day's stage. The first advantage was that he was not a threat to the leader's overall lead.

Mull that one over for a minute. How often do you think riders purposely lose time on a stage so that they can get into the break on the next day without the leader's team worrying about chasing him down?

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Anyway, on this day, the race leader was worried about defending his lead on the last day's criterium. He was the strongest guy in the race so the hilly road stage wasn't a concern but in a crit anything could happen and he only had one teammate to help him out.

We had eight.

Since the race leader was solely interested in the overall win, we made a deal with him to defend his lead in the last day's crit in exchange for him "not contesting" the individual road stage. He did and we did and everyone was happy.

I find this part of cycling to be especially intriguing and exciting. The strategy is so incredibly "big picture". In this situation, I found a strategic value to bringing a full squad that had nothing to do with race performance. We gained that advantage a month before the race when we booked our plane tickets.

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