The day the peloton lost its way


It's the one time a year that more than fifty people in the United States actually give a hoot about bicycle racing. Yes, it's the Tour de France. (Follow the racers live via GPS!) But this story isn't about the Tour. It's about Stage 4 of the 2005 ENECO Tour.

You can follow along with the live report. Everything was going pretty much like a typical racing stage, until time code 13:55.

Veikkanen is now gone from the back of the lead group, but the peloton appears to have taken a wrong turn!!

The peloton is just stopped in the road.

nobody knows what happened, riders are getting off their bikes. Zabel and Verbrugghe are now negotatiting with the race leadership. Verbrugghe gestures that the peloton must follow him and that he'll just lead them back unto the race parcours. He's a local guy, and he probably knows the way. The peloton now over small roads that aren't part of the parcours with Verbrugghe leading the way.

It's almost a Monty Python episode! Riders are everywhere!

That's right. The peloton got lost.

But keep reading. The story gets more and more bizarre. The police get involved to detain the three lead riders! Here's a news report that is less stream-of-consciousness.

I remember in last year's Tour, a rider whose name I recognized was disqualified for being too far behind the stage winner. Apparently, the rules require all riders to be within a certain amount of time of the leader; I guess the idea is to make the domestiques at least put up the appearance of trying to win. I wondered if there ever was a Tour stage where the winner had such a huge lead that the entire peloton was disqualfied. What a strange situation that would be!

It turns out that it actually did happen. I lost the link, however, but maybe somebody can find it for me. There was one stage some years ago where the stage winner had such an enormous lead on the peloton that according to the rules, the entire peloton would have been disqualified! However, the race rules also contain a clause granting the race director the authority to cancel the "automatic disqualification" if doing so would be to the detriment of the race itself. Obviously, this was one of those times.

Comments (21)
  1. uber1024 says:

    When I read about confusion, mayhem, and arrests, I suddenly missed going to Philadelphia Eagles games.

  2. Steve says:

    In this year’s stage 13 race officials needed to extend the cutoff time by one percent (from 9% to 10% I believe) to make sure that a large group of racers weren’t disqualified after a 30 breakaway was successful.

  3. Steve Loughran says:

    The cutoff time is longer on the mountain stages, and they have the discretion to adjust the cutoff time to avoid losing the main peleton.

    In the 1960s the tour would regularly stop at bars, each have a glass of wine or brandy and head off, leaving the cafe owner to send the bill to the TdF organisers. That doesn’t happen any more, as they all take it too seriously.

  4. Collin Winter says:

    It’s actually not that uncommon for a breakaway to gain disqualify-the-peloton amounts of time. It generally happens at least once a year.

  5. ericv says:

    Tour de France 2001:

    Stage 16 Castelsarrasin-Sarran, 227.5 km

    1. Jens Voigt (All) en 5h27’11"

    2. Bradley McGee (Aus) à 5"

    3. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) à 1’59"

    4. Nicki Sorensen (Dan)

    5. Luis Perez (Esp) à 2’55"

    6. Stéphane Heulot (Fra) à 3’44"

    7. Eddy Seigneur (Fra) à 6’39"

    8. Erik Zabel (All) à 25’45"

    9. Stuart O’Grady (Aus)

    10. Damien Nazon (Fra)

    As you can see Erik Zabel was the first of the main group 25+ minutes behind Voigt.

  6. ericv says:

    @Steve Loughran: Just like people take the Superbowl (or whatever it is you do in the US) too seriously i reckon? ;-)

  7. Larry Futrell says:

    The English language rules for the 2006 Tour de France are available here:

    http://www.letour.fr/2006/TDF/LIVE/docs/reglement_2006_us.pdf

    The rules for eliminating riders based on permitted finishing times are on pages 11-13.

  8. Steve Loughran says:

    ericy>@Steve Loughran: Just like people take the Superbowl (or whatever it is you do in the US) too seriously i reckon? ;-)

    I live in the UK. The TdF is the only event I follow on TV, and the only one that I have cycled up alpine passes to watch. Imagine a critical mass ride in the Alps.

    I am currently watching the sunday stage on TV where the t-mobil rider (Kessler?) went over the crash barrier while trying to avoid David Canada who lost the back wheel going into the corner. That was a serious bail out for the Cofidis team member.

    And yes, the UK does take the football world cup way too seriously. It’s only a game, dudes.

  9. randomArmyITGuy says:

    From the context think peleton is like a pack of bike riders, or maybe a car that is infront of the pack that tells them where to go. I’m rather confused.

    From an American perspective, Euro sports are rather interesting. Take Soccer for instance, the game doesn’t end until the ref feels like saying the game is over; so odd. Cycling seems just as odd with the rules that are enforced only when they feel like enforcing them. Maybe it’s our puritanical right/wrong heritage that makes such rules in sports a bit odd. Anyone else get that feeling?

    [The peloton is the main pack of riders. I present as a counter-example the “appeal play” in baseball. The umpire sees that you’re out but can’t say anything until the opposing team asks, “Is this guy out?” It’s “Anything’s legal if you don’t get caught”, but officially part of the rules! -Raymond]
  10. Abacab says:

    A note on this years stage 13.: Jens Voigt won this one as well, this time with a lead of 29’57" on the peleton. You gotta love that guy:-)

  11. Sömnlös i Södertälje says:

    Huh, I got very confused by this post…

    A peloton?

    And bikers were following it?

    Wait, the bikers *are* the peloton?

    Ugh, I wondered if you had moved on from germanic languages to the finnic ones.

    Peloton means fearless in finnish, and knowing that, the whole story became very absurd (Bikers chasing a mechanical bunny? What..?)

    Seems to be some french origin in this context, though…

  12. Dicko says:

    I’m pretty sure one year the leaders crossed a level crossing just before a train came so the peloton had to stop and wait for the train to pass… I think in this case the tour director actually stopped the leaders until the train had passed so that the same gap was maintained.

  13. grg says:

    the game doesn’t end until the ref feels like saying the game is over

    Why it is so odd?

    This is quite logical in the soccer, because they are teams that try slow the game at all cost and this is compensation for that.

    Also in the last years, the refers have less freedom in this question how many minutes to play more. On the end on the regular time they get indication how much minutes more to continue the game and they normally end the game exactly at the recommended time.

  14. Cody says:

    Playing the clock is an accepted practice in many games.  In basketball, before the invention of the shot clock, it was normal to have 20 or 30 points be the winning score since teams would play much slower in order to increase their control over their advantage.

    Running out the clock and trying to beat the clock are also very important parts of close football matches.

    Heck, winning on time is a viable concern in many high level chess games.

    One aspect of many games is trying to defeat your opponent in a given amount of time, not trying to lead the opponent until the ref says you’ve won.

  15. WendyHome says:

    The Ref is allowed to stop play for injuries and ‘add’ the injury time to the end of the half to ensure that the player play for 45 mins each way.  That seems perfectly reasonable.

    The news article raymond cites indicates that one of the three cyclists ‘communed with nature".  Outstanding euphemism.  When you can’t find a rest room commune with nature.  

  16. meh says:

    Heh, speaking of Jens Voigt – I believe he’s the rider whose name Raymond recognized. ;)

  17. C Gomez says:

    It’s not really that the ref just ends the game "whenever he wants".  It’s more like when the time has elapsed and the ball is well out of danger.

    Even being born and raised on U.S. sports, I find soccer’s notion of a semielastic game ending to be no more ridiculous than professional basketball’s frantic last minute.  Each team has far too many timeouts and the "last 30 seconds" can involve numerous possessions.  What makes this ridiculous is how lackadaisacal the rules are about the other 47 minutes of the game.  But, oh, the last minute you can stop the clock endlessly with fouls and timeouts!

    I’m even a basketball fan and I find no more absurd than soccer.

    The only thing absurd about soccer is deciding a major championship game with penalty kicks.  Now THAT is absurd.

  18. Eugene van der Pijll says:

    Actually, I think the stage Raymond refers to is not the one won by Jens Voigt, but stage 8 of that same tour (2001), won by Erik Dekker. The peloton finished 35 minutes behind the leading group. Andrei Kivilev finished fourth in the tour, because of that single stage.

    It is now rare that riders finish outside the time limits, but it happened regularly in the 80s that a grupetto of 10 or 20 riders was disqualified from the race. But even then, if the number of riders was too high, the race director let them stay in. Especially if many of the riders were French.

    [Ah yes, that’s the stage I was thinking of. -Raymond]
  19. [The peloton is the main pack of riders. I present as a counter-example the "appeal play" in baseball. The umpire sees that you’re out but can’t say anything until the opposing team asks, "Is this guy out?" It’s "Anything’s legal if you don’t get caught", but officially part of the rules! -Raymond]

    — In some cases the appeal has to be granted by the umpire who’s right it is to make the original call. In the case of a check swing, the catcher is pointing at the first or third base umpire asking the home plate umpire to appeal to them for guidance. Until the home plate umpire does so, the other umpires won’t do anything just because the catch is pointing at them. So in some cases the team can make direct appeals to an umpire, but in other cases an umpire has to make an appeal to another umpire for them. Weird indeed!

  20. Kristof says:

    An alternative to the current disqualification scheme would be to always disqualify e.g. the last 3 riders. This would give us an entertaining sprint at the end of the race!

  21. Peter says:

    I believe the provision for eliminating riders by time also restricts the percentage and/or number of riders who can be eliminated on each stage.  So if a single rider did finish far ahead of everyone else, the whole peleton would not be eliminated.

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