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Tour de Suisse – Stage 4 crash (from Steephill.tv)

A couple of days ago, there was a massive pile up at the sprint finish of Stage 4 of the Tour Suisse. Some of you, not too familiar with the road cycling scene, will wonder what the heck is it and who cares!

As to the “what is it”, the Tour of Suisse is a cycling race in 9 stages around Switzerland which works as the last training ground for those taking part in the much more famous Tour de France.

As to the “who cares”…… you don’t have to care! It just prompted me to reflect on that fine line that there is between competitive edge and unsporting behaviour.

The facts: last km of the stage, the peloton is compact and travelling fast (60 kph +) as the teams are trying to position their sprinters for the last dart to the finish line. This phase of the races are intrinsically dangerous, as there are perhaps 20 riders travelling very fast and with very little space between them; any small movement, sudden break or lack of concentration may result in a fall. Now what happened is that 300/400 mt from the line the sprinters started jostling for each other’s wheel or that of their train (aka team mates who is launching them). 100 mt from the finish line, Mark Cavendish and Hausler are coming through strong and overtaking Ciolek on either side. Cavendish moves to the left a bit, Hausler rides with the head down for a fraction too long, they touch and end up on the deck, and as they are at the top of the peloton, cause carnage behind them as other riders arrive at high speed and try to dodge bodies on the road or bike flung left right and centre. Cavendish got penalised for his move and most riders staged a protest against him (or his behaviour) the following day.

Obviously in various blogs and commentaries, some people have taken Cav’s side, some not. His move is seen by some as a normal racing move, which happens all the time, just unfortunate the way it ended up; some others think that he was wreckless, dangerous and down right stupid to cause such a massive pile up.

I have looked and re-looked at the footage of the accident on YouTube. My opinion just as valid as anyone else’s I guess. Cavendish goes past Ciolek on the right, clearly looks to his left, sees Hausler hanging on, move towards him to exercise a bit of pressure (!), but Hausler is head down and doesn’t see him coming. So they clip and they go down really bad. At first sight the accident looks like one that happens many time in sprint finishes, but then I started looking at it again given how divided was the opinion on it. Why Cavendish moves to the left when he’s 40 metres from the finish line? He looks and moves, why not concentrate on getting to the line covering the shortest distance…..that is going straight? Personal view again based on media coverage (never met the guy!). Cavendish is a talented rider, with power to spare and he has kicked everyone’s butt in many occasions with amazing bursts of power. He is also a young, cocky and arrogant guy, with lots of self esteem and little respect for other riders. Some would argue that is what makes him a winner.

These types of behaviours are not isolated examples. In F1 there have been several incidents like this one. In MotoGp some bumping occurs at every race; in horse riding is the same; in middle distance athletics you got elbows flying at every start and pushing and shoving before the last key turn; in football, players slightly nudge the opponent when he’s running past them. In all cases, I don’t believe there is a malicious intent to cause harm, but there is definitely an attempt to show one’s muscles and somewhat intimidate the opponent. Many will argue is just part of the game, but that’s where I think the competitive nature of a sport turns people into callous individuals who will have no qualms making a dangerous move to show you who’s boss.

I don’t think Cavendish wanted to crash, nor take down with him other 20 riders (and some unfortunately didn’t get away as lightly as he did…and broke bones). I do think however he wanted to intimidate Hausler, otherwise no reason to go the long way round to the finish line! At times something happens in our brain that triggers irrational reactions, which may cause harm to other unintentionally….and that is true in many walks of life.

Professional athletes are so driven by what they do and winning is such a sought reward (some would say the only reason to be an athlete) that they will push their competitiveness to the limit. And the line is fine and grey between competitive and unfair behaviour. Is it the commercialisation of the sport driving athlete’s to this? is it the human desire to excel and, in a Darwinian way, show his/her supremacy? is it social pressure that drives us to push harder to be the best in what we do? is it the adrenaline rush of winning? Or maybe a combination of all the above?!

Everyone will have their own views, which I respect, though personally I would be pretty pissed off if I’d broken my hip because of someone’s ego! But that’s the nature of competitive sport.

Annunci