There are several great things about this year’s Tour de France, one of which is the sport is collecting new fans. Some fans are not cyclists at all, but true sports fans. Others are primarily recreational cyclists, but now they are fired up about the game of racing.
I received several good e-mails after Stage 7 from some Tour de France newbies that all boiled down to these this question:
• Why is everyone so down on Contador, isn’t the point of any race to try to win the race?
This is a reasonable question for a casual observer to ask. Let me try to boil a very complicated situation down to a few key points:
1. Bike racing at this level is a job. Each racer on each of the teams was hired for a particular job or role on the team. It is similar to you being hired to a job because of your skill and talents.
2. The directeur sportiff (Johan Bruyneel in the case of Team Astana) is the boss. The DS of each team is essentially responsible for the performance of the team and they must manage strategy and team tactics. These issues are often discussed more than once per day and can change as the race unfolds. If you work for someone else, you know who the boss is. If you are the boss, well, you expect certain behaviors from your employees.
3. When the boss lays out a plan, it should be followed – unless there are extenuating circumstances. If there is something unusual or unexpected, riders will often make a decision or a move on the race course that does not follow the plan. It is generally expected that this move is for the benefit of the team. Using the workplace analogy, if an employee makes a decision to not follow the boss’s instructions there are typically consequences from the boss as well as other employees – assuming the boss and other employees do not see the benefit of the singular employee’s behavior.
4. Each job (and family) situation has certain codes of conduct that must be followed in order for it to function optimally. In the case of Stage 7, Lance was ahead of Contador in terms of time. Going up the hill, I think it was Popovych (Astana), Armstrong (Astana), Evans (Lotto) and Contador (Astana). Lance said that Contador did not ride to the team plan for that day (see point #3) by leapfrogging past Evans, Armstrong and Popovych to get ahead of the group (he attacked the group) and give himself valuable time against Armstrong. Contador claimed that he saw weakness in his competitors (Evans?) and decided to make a move. This kind of decision is normally acceptable, unless he: a) was given specific instructions to hold his current time gap and ride tempo for the day, b) he attacked his own team mates. The rumor mill says that he was given instructions to ride tempo for the day, hence the Armstrong statement that Contador did not ride to plan.
5. To win the Tour de France, said rider must have the support of his team. In any workplace or family situation, the boss can certainly reprimand the behavior of people that do not follow instructions. In some cases, worse than the boss’s reprimand, is the punishment that other team members (employees) deliver. If Contador has alienated team members by attacking his own team, life will not be easy for him in the upcoming stages. Just as Contador basically stepped in front of Lance and pushed him out of the way, so he could gain personal benefit – or make a personal statement – that behavior is very, very risky. It is particularly risky if Armstrong has been designated team leader behind closed doors or they have been truly assigned the role of dual team leaders.
It is possible that Contador sees this as a situation of him against the world (or at least Astana world) and he is willing to strike out. Rumors had him searching for another team (despite Astana public statements to the contrary) in the few weeks prior to the Tour, one where he could be the designated team leader rather than the “maybe, we’ll see” team leader. I can understand why he would take this chance.
That written, I think it is a big risk to defy your manager, publically attack team mates and defy some of the codes of cycling conduct. Even if you give the best explanation of, “Gee, I was only trying to help.” Whether the risk he took was worth any reward will be seen in about 11 days.
PS… I posted this link on Twitter where Bradley Wiggens says, "There could come a point when they get off the bike and start fighting each other - it could get as messy as that. They both look as strong as each other: Lance looks superb. And Contador looks brilliant as well."