Hors Delai. Out of time limit. Whatever you like to call it, it’s not something any rider wants to see next to his name at the end of the day. And it’s something nearly one hundred of us had to deal with on stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana.
After quite a bit of controversy, we were “forgiven” by the race jury, and “given a second chance”. Social media and various cycling websites proceeded to explode with commentary on the issue. It compelled me to put together a few words regarding this odd set of circumstances.
As one of the ninety-four riders outside of the “official” time limit, I may be biased. However, I would like to present the views of someone inside the race.
The day after the queen stage, which was noted by many riders as one of the hardest days of racing in their lives, we had a short stage with three big climbs. As soon as the flag was dropped to signal the start of racing, the pace was infernal. We went from a big road to a technical, gravel-covered, small, windy road, with numerous steep pitches.
Everyone was on their limit and a crash in one of the corners caused a split in the peloton, making it that much harder. On one of the risers, riders at the front accelerated behind the motorbike, which did not seem to move out of the way as it should, and from there a group of favourites disappeared up the road. Then came another split behind, which numerous big names jumped across to.
Everyone expected it to come back together after a few minutes, as it nearly always does. Except this time, it didn’t. After two minutes, three, then four, the group gradually disappeared up the road.
A futile half-gassed chase behind for a few minutes and all of a sudden no one knew what to do. The ‘breakaway’ that just went up the road contained nearly all of the GC riders…
So we waited. And waited. Finally, we realised that no one in what should have been identified as the peloton, rather than the gruppetto, had any incentive to ride. We were the biggest group on the road. Almost everyone had a leader in front, so why would we chase behind?
From the couch, computer chair, or work desk, it’s quite easy to throw out some jabs at us “lazy” riders, especially when hidden behind the screens of televisions, smartphones, and laptops.
They say we didn’t try. They say that the commissaires did not follow the rules. They say if they break the rules there, why not break them elsewhere? Why should we even have rules if they’re not applied?
After reading numerous fallacies, I decided to look up the rule regarding time limits myself. It reads as follows:
Rule 2.6.032 from the UCI regulations:
In exceptional cases only, unpredictable and of force majeure, the commissaires panel may extend the finishing time limits after consultation with the organiser. In case riders out of the time limit are given a second chance by the president of the commissaires panel, they shall have confiscated the equivalent points awarded to the winner of this same stage to their individual general classification by points even if their points total in this classification becomes negative.
Our group was operating under the pretence that there was a rule that stated if over 60 per cent of the group falls outside of the time limit, they could not be cut. I’m not sure what rider stated it first, but it spread through our group quite quickly, easing everyone’s nerves.
I will admit that that was quite the mistake. We should probably have double checked it first, because as you can see above, that was not exactly accurate. It is clear that if the commissaires wanted to, they could have thrown every one of us out of the race. But what is also clear is that no rule was broken.
No, the rules are written the way they are for a reason. They clearly allow for an extension of the time limits in certain cases. Regardless of how people define “unpredictable” or “force majeure”, there is room for leeway, and this was definitely a special case.
Whether numerous journalists, armchair commentators, or even riders in the peloton, agree with the jury’s interpretation of those terms or not, there is no arguing that what they did was “against the rules”.
It seems that every time the majority of the peloton reaches unity, something many riders continuously preach for, many of those very riders spit in the soup. Whether those outside of our group liked it or not, our group achieved unity that day, and that is something we should be proud of. For once we were not the pawns in their game, but the orchestrator of ours.
Sure, there are many of us that could have ridden harder and reached the finish line within the time limit, but we chose not to do it that day. We made a decision as a group to stick together; to cross the finish line with our fellow riders – those on our own team as well as others, rather than as warring enemies. Too often we do the latter.
But that day, those of us who could have gone faster up the climbs, or risked our lives on the descents, decided that we, as a group, were more powerful than individuals. It was an unintentional protest.
Much of the cycling world may not agree with how we rode the stage that day, but our lack of speed showed our increasing power. Each time we band together, we show that we are not powerless. And if we continue to support each other, to work together for the betterment of the sport that we all love, we have the power to make the changes we would like to see happen.
Like most chaos, there will be headlines for some days still, before they eventually pass. Riders outside time limit winning stages, dropping others, working on the front, in the break, still impacting the race.
I can assure you that if our group rode 20 minutes faster that day, the preceding results would not have changed. The 94 riders would be no more fatigued than we already are. We would, however, be less aware of the power we hold.
Hopefully a rest day for everyone will ease some nerves in the bunch, the press room, and the bus. Then it’s on, all the way to Madrid!