Today’s Giro Stage 3 was a bunch sprint and the story of the day is that Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocatelli) switched across the road and taking out Mark Cavendish and Taylor Phinney amongst others. A series of screengrab photos helps tell the tale.
First we see Ferrari on Tyler Farrar’s wheel. To the right of the image Mark Cavendish is accelerating away from the two fluo yellow Farnese Vini riders after himself drifting right in order to start his sprint.
Next Ferrari is on the wheel of Saxo Bank’s Juan José Haedo, with his blue jersey. But Ferrari is slightly to the left of Haedo and there is space on the left. On the right note that FDJ’s Arnaud Démare has gone right and got onto Cav’s wheel, switching across but without any accident. So what happens next?
Now Ferrari sees Farrar going and wants to be on his wheel. As you can see from the image above he is beginning to move to the right. But note Ferrari isn’t the only switch here others have been moving.
But now we see Ferrari move direction, trying to fit through a tiny gap and forcing Mark Cavendish to swerve. It’s the angle of the move that surprises.
These images show what is happening in almost no time, note the road markers. Ferrari didn’t just open up his sprint by moving across the road, he swerved in a sudden movement that took Cavendish’s front wheel away and it appears to be a wild move.
For such a dangerous and risky activity, there are very few rules on sprinting. Here’s the sole mention in the UCI book:
2.3.036 Sprints Riders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others.
That’s all you get. Note it’s a bit ambiguous too. What does “and” mean? Is it it that you are strictly forbidden from changing lanes… or forbidden from changing lanes if it endangers others?
The first rule of sprint club is that you not talk about the rulebook
Dangerous sprinting is a bit like an elephant: it’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. A rider switching direction and forcing others to swerve is dangerous; the same is true when the lead rider cuts across others and makes them brake. An accident can happen but even if it doesn’t the rider can get punished. Today’s move by Ferrari looks like an invitation for the commissaires to set an example.
By contrast a rider drifting across the road is more subtle. In the case with Cavendish and Démare today it is ok to jostle and jump. It seems that you can change lanes here so long as you do it over time. Rather than hopping from one side of the road, your lane doesn’t have to be straight. A diagonal charge to the line is often ok. Ferrari by contrast seems to have rode across everyone.
The next step
The Giro has a jury of commissaires and they can review TV footage. They’ll be reviewing the footage and almost certainly he’ll be punished. If the jury doesn’t act, a rider or someone from his team can protest the result and insist the jury reviews something. The question is whether Ferrari is merely relegated for today’s sprint and fined or given a bigger sanction, even throwing him out of the race.
Note comparisons with other dangerous things like Mark Renshaw’s Tour de France headbutt are not the same since that involved a distinct “act of violence” during a race and the rules – fairly or unfairly – distinguish between hitting someone and taking them out by dangerous riding. To put it another way you can carve up riders at 70km/h and provoke multiple injuries and one rule applies but pinch another rider or pull their hair and another rule applies.
Riders have their own rules
More often nobody’s citing the rulebook at the finish line, it’s more a matter of riding within the rules set by the sprinters themselves. Once a rider gets a reputation as dangerous they can find themselves shut out of the sprint. Others know a particular rider is not a wheel to be on and sprint trains try to shunt the riskier riders out of the way.
Sprinters are often lively types. You don’t hear it on TV but the sprint itself is lively with a lot of shouting, sometimes you can see the shoulder rubbing and more. Once over the finish line fast-twitch fibres aren’t just in the legs but tongues wag quickly and many can type fast too via twitter.
Given the intensity of the last kilometre it’s normal, it’s not like a climb where riders attack and don’t tend to get in the way. Take the same riders in a sprint finish and repeat 10 times and the result can vary, less so if you ran a race up the Mur de Huuy or the Zoncolan but the real variation is in the risk. Nobody crashes (ok, it can happen) uphill but a crash at 70km/h is scary at best.
It might be the riskiest and most dangerous aspect of a race but the rulebook doesn’t say very much. Whether it’s a bunch of gorillas or a collection of sprinters, when there are no laws then the group tends to make its unwritten rules. Here it’s sprinters who take the risks and who tend to assess who’s dangerous and who isn’t, although this is often selective at times.
It’s hard to write down what’s safe and what isn’t, it’s all about judgement and interpretation. If the rulebook is slim, it’s hard to write precisely about what’s ok and what isn’t. It’s more you know it when you see it. Given it’s all so open to interpretation, it’s no wonder riders and fans let debate rage over the sprint long after the finish line scaffold has been dismantled.
But I think we’ve seem a good example of reckless sprinting today and Roberto Ferrari will be lucky to start the race once it resumes in Italy. If he does take part then sections of the bunch are likely to give him and his team a hard time.