Editor’s note: As we ring out 2013, we look at 13 of our favorite stories of the year. Neal Rogers’ scathing indictment of the Tour de France’s race jury originally appeared online on July 2, 2013.
NICE, France (VN) — The race jury of the Tour de France made a severe and calloused error Tuesday, cutting American Ted King from the race after he finished the stage 4 team time trial seven seconds outside of the maximum time allowed.
King, a domestique for Cannondale Pro Cycling, was injured in a massive stage 1 pileup, separating his shoulder. He spent Saturday night in the emergency room in Bastia, and was told that he had no fractures; his ability to continue in the race was entirely dependent on his ability to withstand the pain.
In an online diary entry posted on Monday, titled “Hope springs eternal,” King wrote that the pain in his separated shoulder “elicits a similar sensation somewhat akin to breaking a bone. That is, there’s a gritty, ‘this bone doesn’t feel like it’s in the right place’ feeling, much like a piece of sand in your mouth. Only instead of sand, it’s my skeletal system and therefore my livelihood.”
While he managed to finish stages 2 and 3 in the grupetto, the team time trial was to be a particularly cruel test for King.
Placing weight onto his injured shoulder in an aerodynamic tuck was unrealistic, which is why King rode a standard road bike with drop handlebars and clip-on extensions. It made little difference; he was dropped by his teammates in the opening kilometer, and pedaled in alone.
After his ride, in the Tour’s Village Départ, a dejected King told me that he’d ridden “31 minutes and change,” and that he could only wait, anxiously, until all the teams had finished to see if he had made the time cut. I sent that message out on Twitter, and, because King had thought his time was a bit faster than it actually was, confusion reigned when his team announced that he’d been time-cut, even amid its protests.
“They didn’t want to listen to our explanation,” said Cannondale spokesman Paolo Barbieri. “Ted was racing with a shoulder injury, and he raced with a road bike. He was very brave. He did not stop fighting. Those are the qualities of cycling, yet they did not want to change their minds. It is Ted’s dream to race the Tour. We cannot believe it.”
In order to finish within 25 percent of Orica-GreenEdge’s winning time of 25:56.28, riders needed to record a time of 32:25. King’s official time was recorded as 32:32.60. He was eliminated from the Tour de France for missing the time cut by seven seconds.
King posted the SRM data from his ride, averaging 365 watts over 32 minutes, saying, “By my count, I’m at 32:24. I’m honestly not sure where 32:32 is from.”
I was unable to reach race jury president Vincente Tortajada after the stage.
King’s fans on Twitter erupted in their displeasure with the decision; the hashtag #LetTedRide popped up, with even Chris Froome’s girlfriend, Michelle Cound, writing, “7 seconds? Seriously?!? @letour @iamtedking #LetTedRide.”
The UCI race jury and ASO, the owner of the Tour de France, should recognize that decisions they made on Saturday in Bastia directly caused several injuries. It was their decision to wave the Orica-GreenEdge bus driver through the finish line after the gantry had been lowered. It was their decision to change the finish line to the 3km to go line, and then change it again, at the last minute, after the bus had been moved off course. Several riders, including Mark Cavendish, have cited the back-and-forth confusion so late in the race, while teams set up for a field sprint, as the cause of the crash that saw world TT champ Tony Martin taken to the hospital in an ambulance. King crashed earlier on the stage, but the principle remains — pro cycling is a fluid sport, and mistakes happen. Rules, like finish lines, sometimes must be adjusted on the fly.
Eliminating King, in a time when the sport desperately seeks credibility, sends the wrong message to cycling fans. In an era when the Tour de France asks its competitors to perform as humans, and nothing more, it, too, should must show some humanity of its own.
As my colleague Andrew Hood put so succinctly on Twitter in the moments after the jury’s decision was made, “nothing better represents the values of cycling more than King’s ride today.”
A graduate of Vermont’s Middlebury College, King’s road to the Tour de France start line was fraught with hard work and sacrifice. He has never been a star, but rather an above-average rider with a strong work ethic, slowly working his way up the ranks, starting with Continental teams like Priority Health and Bissell, before making the jump to the Pro Continental Cervélo TestTeam in 2009 and 2010, and then to Liquigas, in 2011. He was selected to ride his first Tour late last month, in large part because of his proven ability to contribute to Peter Sagan’s victories.
On the first day of his first Tour, King’s dream spiraled into a nightmare. The following morning, he bravely continued on when others might have quit. On Tuesday, he rode alone through Nice, bravely, along the 25km team time trial route, and was near tears at the finish due to the pain. And those tears became a reality after the stage, when the race jury made a decision that, while having absolutely no impact on the race, has a massive impact on one rider’s dream.
Should King be allowed back in the race, it wouldn’t be the first time the Tour de France race jury has made exceptions to the rules. At the 2011 Tour stage that finished atop the Galibier, won by Andy Schleck, Mark Cavendish was among an 88-rider group that finished more than 35 minutes back, well outside the 33:07 time limit on the stage. However, officials made an exception to the rule, due to the unusually high percentage of riders that missed the time cut, and instead docked Cavendish 20 points in the green jersey battle.
Though the situations were starkly different, the concept is the same — Tour de France time cut rules are not set in stone; exceptions can be made. And in this instance, an exemption should be made.
If the race jury won’t listen to King’s team, they need to hear it from the fans.
Or, as veteran cycling journalist John Wilcockson wrote on Twitter, the riders themselves should take a stand, and refuse to start on Wednesday unless King is among them. Any one of them could have been injured in Bastia on Saturday (many of them were) and every one of them would have done everything they could to stay in the race, as King did Tuesday.
Even King’s ride on Tuesday shows that he belongs in the race. As Cycling Weekly’s Nigel Wynn wrote on Twitter, “On note of Ted King, anyone who can ride at 28.6 mph+ (32:32) for 25km with separated shoulder on a road bike should be in the Tour de France.”
Everyone makes mistakes. When it comes to this Tour, race officials have made two mistakes in four days. The first mistake caused a massive crash and several serious injuries; the second mistake saw King ejected from the race. There’s nothing the race jury can do about the first; it’s not too late for them to correct the second.