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The World

In Cycling, Winning With Honor Means Everything

July 23, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

"There's always been a predictable code of honor," said Bob Roll, a member of the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame and a four-time rider in the Tour.

"When you ride with the same people for three weeks of a Tour or a whole season, it is a matter of respect. You don't take advantage of someone's bad luck.

"It is bad luck what happened to Lance. It is bad luck if you get a flat, it is bad luck if a fan runs into the road or you have to swerve to avoid a dog or cat. All that stuff happens.

"If someone has to pee? That is not the time to launch an attack. In the days when the race didn't go quite as quick, riders were allowed to go home and come back. Cycling is a pretty potent allegory for life. A well-lived, honorable victory is what you want. Anything else? That's not a good win."

Steve Madden, editor of Bicycling magazine, said that when he was a college rider, a major race was held on his home course. "It was snowing out," Madden said, "a miserable day. We were getting near the end and some of the other guys asked me what the last part of the course was like.

"I didn't have to tell them. Or I could have misled them, made them think the course was flat when it had a pretty good hill. But that's not cycling. I told them the truth. They beat me. But I slept well that night."

Miguel Indurain, the only man to have won five consecutive Tour de France races, held up the peloton at the 1995 world championships to give Abraham Olano the chance to win the road race title, because Indurain thought Olano had earned that title over a well-conducted career.

"I think," Madden said, "this comes from the fact of how much these men suffer together. Because of the suffering, they realize that glory comes from beating someone fair and square."

Cycling is not a sport of angels. There have been ugly drug scandals, the most recent in 1998 when the car of a team trainer was stopped at the French-Belgian border and was found full of doping equipment. The ensuing arrests and court trials almost brought an end to the century-old Tour.

"Things are better. Not perfect, but better," Roll said, "and at least everything is out in the open."

Andreu said that because there are no stadiums in cycling road races, because there is no protection from the fans or nails in the road or stray dogs or melting pavement, because stuff happens, riders have learned to give someone a break. Because they'll probably need one themselves.

"Besides," Andreu said, "if you don't, the peloton will get you. If the peloton gets angry and doesn't want you to win, you won't win for a very long time."

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Tour de France's unwritten rules of the road:

* If the leader crashes but can get up, the peloton waits. It is bad form to win because of another rider's misfortune.

* If the leader needs a bathroom break (and they do), the peloton waits. It is bad form to attack while the leader has his pants down.

* If the leader needs to slow down at the food station, the peloton slows down. It is bad form to attack while the leader has his mouth full.

* If a stage of the Tour de France ends on Bastille Day in France, try to let a Frenchman win.

* If a stage ends in or near the hometown or home country of a particular rider who is able to win the stage, let him win.

* If a rider is coming back from injury or suspension and has worked hard to get in shape, let him win a stage. Everybody appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done.

* If a stage wanders near the hometown of a rider, let the rider wander off, eat lunch with his wife, have champagne in the town square and wander back to the peloton. The food, the champagne, the wife, presumably will have slowed said rider down, anyway.

Los Angeles Times

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