There is no rule, written or unwritten, requiring a splintered peloton to wait for the yellow jersey’s teammates.
Odd, then, that it’s precisely what happened on Thursday. It seems quite inconsequential after the chaos of Ventoux, but events 30 kilometers prior might have set up the entire finish differently.
Orica – BikeExchange’s Simon Gerrans crashed on the front of the field with 33km to go, taking out Sky’s Ian Stannard and almost knocking down Chris Froome. As his teammates pulled themselves off the ground, Froome sat up, waving his hands, and then stopped at the side of the road completely. The move was designed to slow the field so that his downed teammates could rejoin. The yellow jersey actually waited and then helped pull them back to the peloton.
It was a noble move, waiting for and protecting his loyal domestiques. But it also left his rivals, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in particular, with a choice: leave the yellow jersey and his teammates behind and, in doing so, break one of the cardinal rules of stage racing (at least at first glance — more on that below) or wait until Froome and his dropped teammates rejoined the front of the peloton.
Led by an arm-waving Fabian Cancellara, the group chose the latter, though Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde was clearly considering pressing on. He, too, sat at the front and waved his arms around, clearly exasperated. But, in the end, a truce was called.
Movistar could have continued to ride and left Froome behind. It could have called Froome’s stunt what it was: an abuse of the yellow jersey’s power. It could have put the hammer down, and left Sky behind. It had every right to do so.
The rules surrounding such events are situational, more grey than black and white. The basic tenet is that the yellow jersey should not be left behind due to an incident out of his control — a flat, a crash, a mechanical of some sort — before the race is ‘on.’
So there were two problems with Froome’s stop. First, the race was already ‘on.’ The peloton had previously split in the crosswinds, and there were GC riders behind. Froome’s stop allowed most of them (including Giant – Alpecin’s Warren Barguil) to return to the front group. The lower top-10 places may not matter to Sky, you can bet they matter to Barguil. Froome’s stop changed the course of those competitions.
The ‘race is on’ rule can be tricky. Think back to Andy Schleck/Alberto Contador ‘Chaingate’ in 2010. Contador continued up the road as Schleck suffered from a shifting mechanical. But Schleck had already attacked; hostilities had been opened. The race was on, but only just. Still, from the moment Schleck attacked, any incident became a racing incident.
Second, and even more important, was the fact that Froome didn’t crash. His teammate did. Froome pulled up not because he had an issue, but to allow his teammates to return. It was a fake nature break with 33km to go that kept teammates at his side. That’s almost unheard of.
Froome was gallant. Fans of Sky and its yellow jersey winner will surely love the move. Ian Stannard is a loyal domestique and after he hit the ground hard his captain returned to his side. That, too, is almost unheard of. But it’s not the responsibility of Froome’s rivals to make sure he remains surrounded by his dedicated teammates. Movistar could have — perhaps should have, given Quintana’s later performance — pressed on. They wouldn’t have broken any of cycling’s unwritten rules. True, it wouldn’t have been nice, or particularly gentlemanly, but there comes a time when the gloves must come off. Froome would have brought it upon himself.