In the event that a rider or riders suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last 3 kilometres and such an incident is duly recognised, the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident.
They are attributed this ranking only upon crossing the finish line. If after a fall, it is impossible for a rider to cross the finish line, he is given the ranking of last in the stage and credited with the time of the rider or riders he was with at the time of the incident. For exceptional cases, the decision taken by the stewards committee is final.
This measure does not apply to:
• finishes of the 2nd stage, which is a team time trial and of the 20th stage which is an individual time trial;
• summit finishes of the 4th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 18th and 19th stages.
That’s Article 20 copied and pasted from the 2011 Tour de France rulebook. It means that following today’s Tour de France stage, both Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez lose time to the other race favourites.
While Andy Schleck, Ivan Basso and Bradley Wiggins finished in the group with Contador, they will not lose time. These three, and others, fell in a crash with around 2km to go. As such they will be “credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident“, in other words they’ll get the same time as the group. Note it’s the group, Cadel Evans and Gilbert attacked out of the group so they gain time regardless of the rules.
Even if today had an uphill finish, it was not a proper uphill climb, the kind that creates big time gaps with riders coming in one by one. It was very much sprint and the organisers were right to ensure the rule applies.
Note that if you’re reading the published results soon after the race has finished, the times are taken by the electronic transponders fixed to the riders’ bikes. So you might have seen Shleck given the same time as Contador but this has to be corrected by the jury of race commissaires.
Finally the rule exists for safety reasons. If riders know they could lose time in the closing moments of a race because someone brings them down, they might fight to stay up front, causing more pressure and thus increasing the chance of a crash.
Instead with the rule a ride can role past the 3km sign and know that so long as they keep on the wheel in front then they’re safe from being penalised for an accident. But if the sit up and let a gap appear, then of course they lose time. It is an artificial construct but I tend to think it works and 3km to go is probably about the right place.
Full results from today can be found at http://www.letour.fr/2011/TDF/LIVE/fr/100/classement/index.html