Friday, July 5, 2013

How @LeTour Robbed @iamtedking and why it matters to referees

So many have been following the criminal mistakes the Tour de France has been making over the opening stages of the tour.

We started with the Orica Green Edge Bus getting wedged under the finishing banner in Stage 1 as we can see here.

Now by itself, this is not a huge deal as frankly, crap happens, and the bus driver made a late decision to go to the finish line, and paid the price frankly by getting stuck under the banner.

Some poor planning on OGE, and maybe even on The Tour for not being more careful.

It is the series of events thereafter however that are really putting Le Tour in a very poor light.

Now, while the bus was getting un-wedged from the banner, the peleton was speeding to that very finish line at speeds around 30MPH. Fearing the worst, the race referees made the on the fly decision to make the finish for the stage at the 3km sport, where there are also cameras (because of there is a crash in the last 3km, all riders get the same time who are involved).

Fair enough, and while the 3km mark was particularly dangerous to finish in, they went with it (Hindsight would have provided the better answer of neutralizing the stage I think).

So with riders getting cross-eyed from oxygen debt, word went out on race radio the finish would be at 3km, not at the finish line.

Now forced to reorganize their teams faster than had been expected, chaos in the peleton ensued and riders scrambled for position. The result, a crash at the 6km mark that caught all of the major contenders, and some of their teams. Some were injured, some seriously, such as NH native and ultra domestique for Cannonade Pro Cycling, Ted King who separated his shoulder in the accident, yet finished, and rode in stages 2 and 3.

On seeing this occur, the race judges made an immediate decision that because they changed the line to the 3km mark, and the crash occurred at the 6km mark, 3km form the NEW finishing line, all riders would get the same time.

This did not sit well for many and the organizers were heavily criticized for their decision.

Stages 2 and 3 go by relatively uneventful from the outside, but many riders were still suffering greatly from their injuries from Stage 1. Even with this being true, these riders were able to make the time cut for each stage (generally a % of the finishing time where riders must finish, or be faced with the possibility of elimination).

Stage 4, the Team Time Trial (TTT) was up, and within the first 150m Ted King was dropped, unable to keep up with his team due to his injuries. He did fight the entire ride however, and clock in at an average speed of approximately 28 MPH ... with a separated shoulder.

At the conclusion of the stage, Cannonade and Ted were told he would be disqualified due to being outside the time cut by 7 seconds.

An international outcry ensued after the decision was renderend by Vicente Tortajada, Le Tour referee jury president. Echos of this protest are still occurring.

Particular commentary, and video about the incident, and the outpouring of support can be found here, here, here, and here.

Now, horrible decision aside, based in history where other "contenders" have been outside the cut, and been allowed to continue, or even the fact that the organizers themseves were the cause of the crash in Stage 1, which was the cause of the injuries, and the cause of being outside the time cut, the worst of it was the president of the referees explanation of the decision.

In short, "... the rules are the rules ... ."

A note to the Tour:
I think Mr. Tortajada is going to be very sorry later in this Tour he ever said those words.

A note to referees out there:
Don't ever say that, you will be sorry you did.

This dear friends is one of those "put on your big boy pants moments" where empathy wins over the text of the regulations. Ted should have been able to ride.

But you may say, he was outside the cut, how can they do that?

The same way they did for others in the past, my taking into account the totality of the situation, and the principals the sport was founded on. Courage, determination, dedication.

As a referee empathy needs to trump the LOTG in some situations where a good decision, needs to outweigh a correct one. What we have here is a decision that is technically correct, and practically wrong.

Also (and referees take note here too), it has limited the decision making ability of the 100th Tour referees to EXACTLY what is in the text of the rule book. They have said it themselves "... the rules are the rules ... ."

To bind yourself to a series of words is a dangerous pretext. Any good referee, any good manager, wants flexibility to deviate when it is necessary to do so. This moment comes when they recognize that strict application of the rules will actually do harm to the spirit of what they are employed to protect.

Mr. Tortajada forgot this completely in his ruling on Ted King.

If the opportunity arises again in this Tour, he will be forced to employ his same singular stance on the topic, and recite the text of the rules.

If he does, good on him for being at least consistent, if not a robot.

If he does not, especially on July 14th if a Frenchman is involved, doping will be the least of Le Tour's problems in 2013 and beyond.

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