Race favourite Richie Porte had a disaster of a day at the Tour of Italy on Tuesday after he flatted on the run-in to the finish of stage 10, accepted a wheel from a rider on another team, then got hit by the race jury with a two-minute time penalty for taking the wheel.
The rider who gave up his wheel to Porte was a compatriot of his, Australian Simon Clarke.
At first it seemed like everyone was overjoyed at seeing a rider from another team help out one of the favourites.
People were thrilled to see one Aussie helping out another in a moment of potential disaster.
The race itself tweeted that this generous act showed that “cycling is the best sport”:
Porte, who rides for British-based Sky Pro Cycling, was already down 1 minute, 9 seconds behind race leader Alberto Contador, his main rival, as a result of the puncture and before the penalty.
Being a minute down is not the end of the world in a three-week stage race, and even though Porte would have had to work hard to make up the time, he still had a fighting chance.
Yet the rules say that you can’t take a wheel from a rider on another team.
So now Porte is trailing Contador by a whopping 3 minutes, 9 seconds after just 10 stages in the 21-stage race.
While Porte can technically still win the Giro d’Italia, the two-minute penalty is a huge blow, and it looks like a real long shot at this point. He’s likely aiming for third-place finish.
There are many tough stages to go before the race finishes in Milan on May 30, including several brutal mountain stages. But Contador is one of the best climbers in the race, and it’s unlikely that Porte will be able to do much to undo the damage done. If anything, it’s possible Contador will extend his lead.
“Not the best of luck for me today but guess it could have been worse,” Porte said on Twitter. “Ready to fight all the way to Milan!”
He added on Instagram: “If that’s not Aussie mate ship then what is? Punctured and clarkey gave me his front wheel #oweyouabeer”
Porte, who is a stronger time-trial rider than Contador, can gain a little time back in the TT, but even that is not certain. Contador is riding strong, even though he’s nursing an injured shoulder.
The consensus on social media was that the penalty was too harsh.
And it doesn’t help that the sport’s governing body, the UCI, has a history of not enforcing its rules consistently.
As VeloNews reported, it’s hardly the first time there was a friendly gesture made between riders from different teams.
Teams often pass rival riders a water bottle from the car or have their mechanics stop to help a rider from another squad.
The jury turns its head when team mechanics give their own cyclists a “magic spanner” by holding the bike and pretending to fix it as they make their way to the group again after a crash or mechanical. They also use a similar “sticky bottle” move, which often goes somehow unnoticed as well.
The Giro d’Italia faced a difficult decision Tuesday: dock time and hurt the race overall battle, or turn a blind eye and risk being ridiculed in public.
“But what credibility can the Giro have if we are to allow something like this? This credibly applies, even if sometimes this hurts someone,” race director Mauro Vegni told VeloNews.
“I can understand this ‘fair play,’ like how they wrote back and forth on Twitter, but the rules are that way, the rules say that: You can’t pass equipment to another team.”
There were a lot of upset people on Twitter:
How do you say “bullshit” in Italian?
— Jonathan Vaughters (@Vaughters) May 19, 2015
What a desperately bad decision by judges at Giro. Really foolish to penalise friendship & goodwill, exactly what we need to see more of
— Chris Boardman (@Chris_Boardman) May 19, 2015