The rule of the peloton: if the riders don’t want to race, they won’t

April 20, 2007

This is a quote from an article in this month’s Procycling magazine. In an article examining the origin of the time limit in stage races, Procycling traces the efforts of Henri Desgrange and his successors to force riders to give it all they have all the time. A perfect Tour for Desgrange was with only one finisher.

The result was a series of rules designed to punish the gruppetto followed by a series of countermoves by riders. Rules included eliminating the last rider (lantern rouge) on the G.C. each day. This was countered by riders destined to be the lantern rouge dropping out. The result is another rider who finished the stage would then assume the lantern rouge and be removed. Teams began playing the game of “If I go, I’ll take one of yours with me.” with each other. This detracted from the race to the point where the rule was dropped.

Realizing that no rule will stop an unmotivated peloton a truce was obtained and the 10% rule became the law of the land. All riders finishing outside 10% of the winner’s time are eliminated. The time limit moves to 15% if more than 15% of the peloton finishes outside the 10% time limit.

Sometimes, even this rule was challenged. On a rain soaked stage in 2001 Tour de France, a small but motivated breakaway put about 30 minutes between themselves and an unmotivated peloton. To account for this, race commissaries are granted quite a bit of leeway in modifying the race rules.

Funny that after reading this article I step off the plane and read that on Stage three of the Tour of Georgia, the peloton again decided to take the day off. A group of thirteen riders broke away early in the day’s stage. When each team looked to the other to work, they found no takers. So the die was cast and at the end of the day, the peloton rolled in 29:04 behind the day’s winner.

We are reminded of the hard learned lesson taught to Henri all those years ago. When riders don’t want to race, they won’t.