Today in Paris-Nice, Jerome Cousin of Direct Energie took the fifth stage coming past Nils Politt of Katusha after the two emerged from the day’s breakaway. Sounds like a nice story, but Politt had been the aggressor and created the final selection, and then Cousin latched on to Politt’s wheel, refusing to contribute to the break, until coming past the German for the victory. I was among those who screamed “foul!” at this lack of contribution. Conor, bless him, quickly took me to task on Twitter for not respecting the win. And with that, an unwritten rule of cycling was up for debate.
So, what is the unwritten rule that pertains to cooperating in a breakaway and subsequently contesting the stage win? Trying to write down unwritten rules is a bit like trying to put the wrong end of two magnets together, it can’t be done effectively. But we are here to try! Or to cop out and put up a poll anyway.
So here are the possibilities.
- Cousin was wrong to not cooperate more.
My position is that you should contribute to a break, even in a token way if you haven’t got any more, until the break has succeeded in beating the pack, and then you can start monkeying around for the stage win. Today, Cousin bridged up to Politt when the Katushan made his move, and then locked on to his wheel for the entire rest of the race. Anyone who was paying closer attention than me can maybe say exactly how far out this was, but even while serving breakfast to my ungrateful children* I could see that Cousin went into wheelsucking mode from at least 5km out. The pack was bearing down on them and threatening to catch the leaders just about to the end, and Politt yelled at Cousin a couple times to contribute, but was unwilling to sacrifice a shot at the win so he didn’t pause for long in prosecuting the escape. It was a foregone conclusion at the end that he couldn’t stop Cousin from coming by for the win, and relegating Politt to second.
2. Winning is the ultimate justification.
I have some sympathy for this perspective, or would if my mood weren’t established by having to feed my ungrateful children. But basically, Politt kept pulling, so Cousin simply took advantage of the situation in pursuit of a win, which is his duty to his team (and yeah, himself). This is a pretty prominent philosophical notion in western society; it’s not too far removed from the iron-clad business rule that a company’s job is to maximize the value of the company for the stockholders, by doing things like moving the factory to a country with cheap labor. It’s the way of the world, and if Politt is in denial of that, that’s his problem.
I think those are the only two choices, right? Either you believe in certain moral limitations on your job, or you simply believe in doing your job, full stop. In the wider world this is a different question than it is in cycling; humans have responsibilities for the planet and its inhabitants that raise moral questions of far greater gravity than who wins a stage of Paris-Nice. Sport is always a competition, unlike life,** so while the analogy works, it doesn’t mean you have to choose the same side in both scenarios. Some would say that the purpose of sport is to let us battle things out in this all-or-nothing way so we don’t have to do that in real life.
Of course, you could reject the moral framing of this question entirely, and think purely in practical terms. A large part of the reason cyclists generally don’t behave this ruthlessly is that other riders and teams have long memories, and there is always another day. Jerome Cousin won’t be welcomed in a breakaway again anytime soon. Or so the argument goes. So, should you contribute to a break because there is always another day, and riders/teams shouldn’t fritter away their reputation and long-term chances for some marginal short-term gain? Or is that either untrue, or not a good enough reason to compromise today’s win?
So, for cycling, a poll. Does the unwritten rule convict Cousin of malfeasance or is Politt’s negligence an intervening factor? Is today what truly matters or should teams think as well about their long-range plans?
When is a rider required to contribute to an escape if he wants to try to win the stage?
This poll is closed
Everyone in the break should take at least some pulls until the break has secured the win, then all cooperation rules are out the window
If a rider can get away with not contributing to a break, and maximize his chances of winning, then he should seize whatever advantage he can
[* My children aren’t actually that ungrateful. They’re just being standard children. Someday they will take good care of me when I’m old. Right?]
[** And yes, I realize that I might not be cynical enough, and that it’s a wonder I have survived this long.]