Part of the reason I was attracted to the sport of bicycle racing was because of the lack of officiating that the sport needs to run correctly. Back when I started racing, the riders and the officials were mostly the same people. I didn’t really know any official that wasn’t, or hadn’t been, a racer. Everyone got along great and very rarely did an official had to make a call that changed the outcome of a race.
I’ll state it first and foremost, I’m not a big rule guy. I like cycling because that we start, race and the first rider across the line wins. No subjective opinion there. Cross the line first and you win.
Many of the rules of the sport are not really rules, but guidelines. And the guidelines are differentiated from the rules by everyone involved in the sport. The riders, officials and most other people associated in the race know what rules are nearly never enforced, thus guidelines, and what rules are pretty much set in stone. And the ones set in stone should, pretty much, never be overlooked.
Over the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, two rules at different races, weren’t enforced. I was watching the first race, Redlands, and while I was racing a 100 mile gravel road race on Sunday, heard about the 2nd incident. Both rulings, made by the officials, were completely wrong. They crossed the boundary of the rules. These rules are the rules.
First incident was at the Redland’s Criterium. The race leader, Phil Gaimon, clipped a pedal or something, coming out of the 2nd to last corner and fell. He was virtually at the front of the race, his team had been there the last hour or so setting tempo. When he fell, a lot of other GC riders either fell or got caught up too. The problem here is that there were just 5 laps to go, thus the free lap rule was over.
The free lap rule is one of the rules that is a rule. Everyone knows the rule. I know the rule, so well, that when I fell at National Criterium Championships last year and didn’t abide by it, I rode over to the officials and told them I broke it and should be disqualified, which I was.
It really doesn’t matter if the riders involved in the crash were the race leaders or the tail end of the pack. When you crash after the free lap rule is over, you either chase, or in a stage race situation, you take a prorated time. This is the way it has always been and it is a good rule.
Phil had to have known how many laps there were to go. And I’m not bagging on Phil, but when he fell, he just casually got up, the European pro method of crashing, and didn’t do anything to get on his bike quickly. Nearly 3/4 of the field was still behind him when he was standing there brushing off, and there wouldn’t have been any issue of him getting back into the race.
But, no, he and a bunch of other guys, casually ride up the start finish line to find out that the free laps were over. A group actually rode past the pit, then did a u-turn on the course, thus riding back against the course, which is against the “rules” too, and then were told they were done. As Phil was interviewed, he was funny, as always, saying that “Someone fell, it was probably me”. That was great.
These guys, all of them, should have had prorated times. And the ones riding back against the course should have been disqualified. The 2nd rule, riding against the course, sometimes comes close to being a guideline, but not at such a big race, such as Redlands, that has two pits and is streaming live.
Here in the US, we, as we the sport, have done everything in our powers to make criterium racing 2nd tier bike racing. And the reason is because in Europe they don’t really race criteriums, so it isn’t considered important enough to give consideration.
But, sorry, it is the way the American fans like to watch the sport live. So the promoters, historically, have always had at least one criterium in each National caliber stage race. The teams have figured out a way to control criteriums. I’m not going off on that, but the tempo setting they do, they break many rules, but the officials really can’t see it, so it persists.
But for the officials to just arbitrarily change the free lap rule is way overstepping their rank. The rule isn’t changeable. All the riders in the race know it, the announcers know it, everyone knows it. Do you think if the tail end of the race would have crashed, they would have given those guys the same time as the field? Absolutely not.
Sorry, but the criterium was part of the stage race and the crash didn’t occur in the last 3 km of the race, so you chase. Same with a road race, if you crash outside the 3 km mark in a road race, you get up as quick as you can and chase. You don’t crash at 7 km to go and think that they will just change the 3 km rule to 7 for you because they want you to still be in contention to win the race.
Someone will win the race regardless, just not you, because you fell, on your own and made a very bad decision not to get on your bike quick and get back in the field. I suppose I would have more sympathy for Phil, and maybe some of the other riders, if his bike was destroyed and he couldn’t ride it, or he was hurt bad enough that he couldn’t get up, but that wasn’t the case. And it doesn’t really matter if I’m sympathetic or not. The rule is the rule.
The 2nd issue over the weekend, was at Paris-Roubaix. There has been lots of controversy over it already, in the press, but it was the railroad crossing fiasco. That situation was handled so poorly by the officials, that they should have to serve a time out in the corner and probably miss a recess too.
The railroad crossing rule is a rule. And every rider, of the caliber that races Paris-Roubaix, knows the rule concerning railroad crossings.
So, here is the peloton of riders, barreling towards a railroad crossing that is coming down, and they don’t stop. And they don’t stop because of why? Because of the very thing that happened. They thought that enough of them had cheated and that they wouldn’t be called out on it, which is exactly what a “race jury”, whatever the fuck that means, did.
Here is what Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider, Björn Leukemans, said after the race to Cyclingnews. He said, “Actually, I did something wrong, but at the moment I crossed, it was certainly not life-threatening. It is slightly different for riders who were in the peloton and rode around when the barriers were all the way down. On the images I saw a rider slalom between the barriers. Of course that’s playing with fire. “
Then he said, “It is very difficult to determine who exactly kept riding. You must also put yourselves in our place. We are fully concentrated on the race. In addition, we know that there are no clear rules or procedures in such a situation. You don’t know what the jury will decide, if you stop you let that group go.”
Björn is wrong here. There is a very clear rule pertaining to the situation. And that rule mandates that the riders stop at a railroad crossing or they are disqualified. No gray area there. Break the rule, you are done.
But, once again, some really bad officials, made a really bad call and made a rule, pretty much written in stone, into a guideline. The reason Björn thinks the rule isn’t clear is because of very rulings such as this. It is much less clear rule than it was last Friday.
I can hardly wait until it happens again, at a race such as Paris-Roubaix, and then the riders that they do disqualify, come back and sue the officials , race and UCI, saying that they let it happen before at Pari-Roubaix, so why are they enforcing the rule to me now.
And they have a valid point. The rule is for the riders safety. Sure, the organizers need to pay a lot more attention to the train schedules, in Europe, but these things are going to happen everywhere. And when it does happen, you, as a rider, don’t break it, because, even if you consider it to be safe, because you won’t be able to ride any more, because you are not in the race, you are disqualified.
I think that every rider that, on video, who broke the rule, and the law, by going under the barriers, should be ticketed and removed from the results. This rule is very important to to the sport and should not be overlooked. The precedent that has been set, from this “jury decision”, endangers the riders and the sport. Nothing like a couple famous cyclists getting hit by a TVG to make an important race just disappear from the sport. Not to mention the dead riders.
Not enforcing the train rule is something that perturbs me. I had an issue with the same rule, and wrote about it a few years ago. The officials at that race, made a subjective ruling too, that cost me a major stage race win and lost me thousands of dollars in prize money.
The rule isn’t subjective. The rule is a rule and it is not up to any “jury of officials” to mess with, at any race.
Okay, like I said, I’m not a big rule guy, but these two incidences can not be overlooked. I agree with these two rules, that are in the books, and it isn’t up to any given officials, at any given race, whether it is Redlands or Paris-Roubaix, to overlook them.
Two very bad calls at two completely difference bike races.
USAC Rule 3D5. Free Lap Rule. Riders shall normally cover the distance of the race regardless of mishaps and must make up any distance lost on their own ability unless a free lap is granted for mishaps. Unless the official race announcement states that no free laps will be allowed, one free lap may be granted for each mishap subject to the following rules. On courses shorter than 1 km, two free laps may be allowed for a given mishap. (a) Bicycle inspection and repairs must be made in an official repair pit. If announced in advance by the Chief Referee, 1 riders are permitted to cut the course to get to a pit, but only while the Free Lap Rule is in effect. There should be repair pits at intervals of 1 km around the course. (b) There must be a referee stationed in each repair pit to determine if the mishap was a legitimate one and if the rider is entitled to a free lap. (c) A rider who is granted a free lap must return to the race in the position held at the time of the mishap. A rider who was in a group shall return at the rear of the same group the next time around. A rider returning to the race after a free lap shall be ineligible for sprint prizes for one lap thereafter. (d) A rider granted a free lap must re-enter the race before the final 8km of the race; after that point in the race a rider in the pit is losing ground on the field
UCI Rule – Level crossings 2.3.034 It shall be strictly forbidden to cross level crossings when the barrier is down. Apart from risking the penalty for such an offence as provided by law, offending riders shall be eliminated from the competition by the commissaires.
Here’s a link to a pretty good still photo sequence of the instance. In the photos, it looks like the whole field was warned before the crossing, as the barrier arms are starting down, so there must have been lights and bells before.