FAIR PLAY – AND THE TOUR DE FRANCE PELOTON – PART TWO

    BLOG #30, SERIES #3
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    FAIR PLAY
    AND THE TOUR DE FRANCE PELOTON
    PART TWO
    July 25, 2012

It is over for another year: the 99th to be exact (with so many crashes, only 153 of 198 made it to Paris).  And Connie and I are vicariously drained by the intensity of it.  Thanks to the continuing miracle of television we’re able to have ringside seats for the entire three weeks, and, in this year’s case, 2,500 some miles (the distance varies each year, depending on the route chosen; no two routes being the same).  Equivalent to racing bikes across the entire continental United States at full speed.  No wonder it is today ranked as the #1 yearly race in the world!

Fair play – that is the real subject of these two blogs.  Without this essential aspect of sport – or competition in general –, the event is a travesty, victories meaningless, and are not worth the time it takes to watch them.  Indeed, the subject of fair play represents the very core of my upcoming book with e-Christian Books: Showdown and Other Memorable Sport Stories for Boys.

Sadly, fair play is not as central to American sports as it used to be in generations past.  Instead, winning at any cost – even if it means maiming or incapacitating for life a member of an opposing team [think New Orleans Saints bounty scandal] more often than not appears to be in the ascendancy.

Needless to say, millions from all around the world watch each year’s Tour de France to see if race officials are still doing their best to maintain a level playing field.  Perhaps the most telling moment was when Peter Sagan, the electric new addition to the race from Slovakia, was sprinting for a stage win and the biker just ahead of him – I believe it was Goss – swerved just enough to block Sagan’s forward progress, race leaders penalized Goss by 30 points.

But the most telling moment (in terms of character) occurred during that horrendous day when some despicable person seeded a mountain road with tacks, causing some 43 riders to pull off with flat tires.  The defending champion (Cadel Evans of Australia) was sidelined by tacks three times!  At that time, Bradley Wiggins of the UK held a slight lead over Evans, so all he had to do was proceed at the same speed as before and then his main rival for glory in Paris would be conveniently eliminated.  But Wiggins would have nothing to do with profiting by his rival’s misfortune: in consultation with other team leaders he slowed down the pace of the entire peloton long enough for Evans and other bikers with flat tires to change bikes and catch up with the peloton.  It was a seminal moment.  The only comparable one being when Lance Armstrong’s arch rival, Jan Uhlrich of Germany, descending too fast on a mountain stage, careened off the road, Armstrong almost skidded to a stop in order to help Uhlrich get back up to the road and on his bike.  Never shall I forget the sight of Uhlrich (during the final laps of the Tour on the Champs Elysee in Paris) reaching out his hand to grasp that of the victor, Armstrong, in tribute to that incredibly generous act of graciousness.

But back to this year’s Tour: I couldn’t help but notice that, after the Evans incident, everyone (players and media alike) began treating Wiggins with deeper respect and admiration.  By that one act, Wiggins had achieved towering moral stature in the eyes of his fellow cyclists.  Other defining moments followed: ordinarily, when a given cyclist establishes dominance time-wise over his rivals in a race [and Wiggins dramatically proved twice that he was the race’s best time trialist by far] – especially if he leads a strong team –, he becomes boss of the Tour from there on, brooking no threats to his rule.  All breakaway riders are to be unceremoniously pulled back to the peloton by the end of each stage.  Armstrong was just such a clearly-in-control leader.  Wiggins, on the other hand, didn’t appear to feel his need to constantly remind his fellow riders who was boss.  If the breakaway riders were no threat to the final standings in Paris, he’d sometimes just let them have their moment of glory.  Even more significant, however, was a decision Wiggins made before the peloton entered Paris on the last day.  Ordinarily, the first of seven laps in Paris represents a supreme moment when the new king of the Tour flaunts his Yellow Jersey and team by grandly riding at the very front for the entire lap.  But not this year: George Hincapie (not a member of Wiggins’ Sky team), a veteran of 17 Tours, savoring the last one of his career on the Champs Elysee, was chosen by Wiggins to lead out.  Not only that, but on the very last lap, instead of merely basking in his own glory at the front of the peloton as is the norm with Yellow Jersey winners in Paris, Wiggins speeeded up so as to give his teammate, Mark Cavendish (“the fastest man on wheels”) a leg up in winning the sprint to the finish, thus becoming the stage winner.

For I have noticed in this all-too-short journey we call life, it is the “little” things we do or do not do that end up defining us for our contemporaries and for posterity.  In this particular instance, who knows what the impact for good, for instilling in the young a deeper sense of fair play and selflessness, of this one man’s choices, may turn out to be.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Fair play—it’s so crucial!! Joe, I wish you’d write about the Penn State decision; I have zero interest in football, but I’m having trouble seeing the fairness of taking away victories and current competitions because of tragic and horrible decisions leaders made in the past. Can you explain or comment on this?

    • Elsi, good to hear from you. I don’t know enough inside info on the Penn State mess to have anything credible to say about it other than to say it amounts to a national tragedy, and is a natural result of our deifying big league sports above teaching in the classroom.


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