Bending the Rules
by Ben Greenwood | 26/10/10


They say one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, the same battle, the same facts, but seen from different sides with different views. What’s acceptable to one man is unthinkable for another. The same is true in professional cycling, the rules are written, but how they are interpreted and abided by is not universal. At the top level of sport, the difference between the best and the rest is tiny, gaining any slight advantage can be the difference between winning and losing. Training, determination, dedication, these are things that can help you win, but sometimes pushing the boundaries of what’s fair and what’s not can help to decide the race result.

The most obvious way to cheat is by taking drugs. For many years a culture has existed where it’s been acceptable within the peloton to take drugs. But times have changed. The testers are catching up. It’s not cool to take drugs anymore. Many riders still try to do it, but they’re the idiots and they get treated with the contempt they deserve. Doping is too much over the line, it’s a step too far. But there are other ways that a rider can try to gain that little extra. These are things that while technically not allowed are tolerated, sometimes because a commisaire is a bit lax and sometimes because being strict with the rules can be harsh and unfair.

The most common example of this is when a rider has a mechanical problem or a crash. Often if it’s not a key part of the race, the rider will be allowed to sit behind his team car and get a tow back to the peloton. In more extreme cases the team mechanic may pretend he’s adjusting part of the bike while he holds on tightly to the rider, while the team car accelerates to a higher speed. Holding onto a car by a rider results in instant disqualification, the only exception to this is if the rider is receiving medical attention from the doctors car. After a crash a riders will often pretend they need to see the doctor in order to be allowed to hold on for a few minutes and be pulled closer to the bunch.

It’s not only after misfortune that the team car can come to a riders rescue. The most regular trick of all is ‘the sticky bottle’. This is where a rider takes hold of a bottle from the team car but doesn’t take it straight away. Instead the team manager will keep hold of the bottle for a few seconds while speeding up. After anything up to 10 seconds the manger will let go and the rider will be catapulted forward with greater momentum. This trick is almost never penalised as it’s virtually impossible for the commissaries to spot. All they see is the rider taking a bottle from the car.

Criteriums offer a fantastic chance for some opportunistic rule bending. The normal regulation is that a rider can have up to a maximum of 2 separate laps out for a mechanical or crash with only 1 lap allowed for each incident. Crashes can be abused as they normally happen round the back of the circuit, away from the judges eyes. This means they don’t actually know who’s crashed and who is just pretending. All a rider needs to do is rub a bit a chain oil on their leg, roll their shorts up a bit and turn their helmet slightly and the judges will be pretty convinced. Just don’t do this in a race where the cameras are watching, as this result in you being ridiculed by your housemates (It wasn’t me or Dan).

Laps out for mechanicals are abused even more regularly. Technically a mechanical means a puncture or catastrophic bike failure. It shouldn’t include jumping gears, a loose seat pin, a loose bottle cage or when it starts raining, incorrect tyre pressure, all of which have been used to obtain a laps rest. Laps out in a crit are doubly good as not only does it allow a quick breather, it also allow the rider to get back in the race at the front of the group they were in. In a bunch of 150, if you’ve started at the back, a lap out is a much easier option than fighting past all those riders to get to the front. For this reason it’s not been unknown for riders to start a race with a soft tyre or a premeditated problem so they can immediately take their lap out and jump back in at the front. It’s also not uncommon for riders to attempt to start back in the wrong group. You’d think the judges would prevent this but unfortunately most of them are pretty clueless so it happens more often that you’d expect. In one case a rider missed half the race before jumping in for the last few laps and getting a top 10 and a good payday. Even worse was the rider in a UK Tour Series race who broke his rear changer halfway round the course, missed at least 5 laps while he walked to the pits, before rejoining and finishing in a podium position.

Outright cheating is not looked upon kindly in the peloton. A cheeky lap out is 1 thing, but sometimes people take it a bit too far. This can result in riders gaining a reputation for cheating and the contempt of their fellow riders. For one rider who was called Pete who was given a time penalty for holding onto a car, this proved costly. Unfortunately for him his name rhymes with cheat and he’s likely to be forever known as ‘Pete the Cheat’.

Another comedy moment happened in the UK National Champs when one rider having been dropped and deciding to retire from the race, stopped for a toilet stop next to a bush. To his surprise he saw the bush moving and a rider appeared. ‘Don’t tell anyone you saw me’ the guy in the bush shouted, before jumping back into the race in the breakaway. Needless to say, missing a lap on a 10km circuit didn’t go down too well and he got disqualified. The same rider was alleged to have done most of one stage of the Tour of Britain in his Dad’s car before jumping out near the finish and joining back into the bunch. Unfortunately his name doesn’t rhyme with cheat so he’s avoided getting himself a catchy moniker. The moral of the story is if your name’s Pete, stick to the rules…

And remember kids cheating’s not cool, and it won’t impress the girls, just ask Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney.

Benji