It’s All About Respect
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Respect is the cornerstone of professional cycling, and it was out of respect to Dave Zabriskie that Lance Armstrong initially refused to wear the yellow jersey at the start of Stage 5. Although Lance eventually relented to the demands of the race organization and donned the jersey, the peloton and fans understood and appreciated the gesture.
One of the big differences between professional cycling and other major sports is that all of these teams involved race against each other all year long. In baseball, football, and soccer, only two teams compete at a time. The Philadelphia Eagles may only see the Dallas Cowboys once or twice in a season. In cycling, the Discovery Channel races againstlongside T-Mobile, CSC, Phonak, and the others every week. There has to be a high level of respect within this tight community of athletes, because being ostracized from the group will quickly result in the end of your cycling career.
Even though they are fierce competitors, professional cyclists must cooperate and protect each other. When the big group is flying down the road at 40 mph, it’s in everybody’s best interest to avoid crashes. As a result, riders signal each other to warn riders behind that there is an obstacle or tricky corner approaching. Team directors in the cars following the race will motorpace riders from opposing teams so they can reintegrate with the race. They do this because they know that at some point, their own riders will need the same favor from another team’s car.
Respect in the peloton goes beyond safety and assistance, and extends to the ways riders uphold the traditions and customs of the sport. It is an honor to wear the leader’s jersey in any of the competitions within the Tour de France (overall, sprints, mountains, youth), and the peloton expects the men in those jerseys to be respectful of that. The gesture of refusing the yellow jersey this afternoon was Lance Armstrong’s way of indicating he would rather have earned the jersey under different circumstances. True competitors don’t like to see anyone crash out of the leader’s jersey because they would rather see the jersey change hands as the result of head-to-head racing.
Riders who lose the respect of the peloton are typically doomed to early retirement. If the larger community decides that a rider’s poor sportsmanship or dangerous riding is detrimental to the sport as a whole, they simply make it impossible for that rider to be successful. It can be as simple as not letting a rider into the draft, not working with him in breakaway groups, not warning him about upcoming obstacles, or not moving over to give him space to avoid obstacle. Team directors can shun riders too, by, making it harder for a rider to draft off their cars in the caravan or refusing to share food or bottles. In one or two races, this isn’t a big deal and it’s sometimes used as a “punishment” for small transgressions; but if when it happens for an entire season, that rider’s results plummet and he typically doesn’t return to the peloton the following year.
A cyclist’s reputation in the peloton is as important as any professional’s reputation in the corporate world. Integrity, honor, and respect are essential parts of being a successful professional cyclist, and these traits have helped Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France six times already, and will play a large role in his bid for a seventh yellow jersey.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s personal coach and founder of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). His latest book, Chris Carmichael’s Fitness Cookbook, is now available and you can register for a chance to win a ride with the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team at www.trainright.com.