Today on the Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali attacked while Chris Froome was having mechanical difficulties. According to the commentators and Froome himself, that's something you just don't do. Apparently it's seen as unsportsmanlike. Where does this come from, and why would a rider not take every advantage possible in order to win the race? I understand why it would be in bad form to do something like that on a casual group ride, but it seems like any advantage you could get in a professional race would be fine.

It's especially interesting because Nibali lost a lot of time in the first week due to mechanical problems and a crash. It seems from comments surrounding the occurrence today that it's only bad form to leave the race leader behind when he has a mechanical problem. Can somebody please explain this to me. In any other sport somebody who has an equipment malfunction is just supposed to deal with it, and nobody is going to slow down for them.

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    Lots of sports have unwritten rules. NO other sport has ever displayed sportsmanship related to equipment failure? No boxer has held up to let an opponent pick up mouth piece? No skater has lent equipment?
    – paparazzo
    Jul 25, 2015 at 3:16
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    I agree this makes no sense. Rules in a sport exist exactly to solve this kind of problem: ensure fairness, having everyone respect them. Once someone starts respecting "unwritten rules", he has changed the rules for him but not for everyone else. And since it's unwritten, it's not clear exactly what you have to do. And some athletes might respect some and not the others, or do that in a different way. Bottom line: if they feel like it, they should push for it becoming an actual, specific, rule.
    – o0'.
    Jul 25, 2015 at 8:30
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    @Lohoris I agree with you on this one. Early in the race this year there was a big crash, and it seemed like everyone who made it through wanted to take advantage of it, and many of them were quite annoyed that they stopped the race. The reason for the stop was that there was no medical cars available to follow the race. Had there been medical cars available, most of the racers would have happily left the others behind.
    – Kibbee
    Jul 25, 2015 at 10:46
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    It's ridiculous when compared to the "almost everyone does drugs and no-one dobs" code that apparently even the few no-drug riders obey. I would have thought getting everyone else disqualified would be enough of an advantage that someone would do it... every year. Apparently it's not that easy.
    – Móż
    Jul 26, 2015 at 21:58
  • Note that tour cycle races are a team sport, so they are inherently a social activity in a way that solo sports are not. That means there are social codes and expectations that are unofficially enforced. You see that everywhere, and it usually only comes to light when broader social expectations change - we've seen that in the last few years with the decision that raping children is wrong resulting in convictions for past crimes by TV personalities... for behaviour that was widely known at the time. Arguably the intermittent fights about doping are an example of the same thing.
    – Móż
    Jul 26, 2015 at 22:05

4 Answers 4


This compilation of articles on the subject goes into a lot of depth and sources some examples and opinions of some very notable cyclists themselves.


"I don't know when it evolved," said Phil Liggett ... "It's been a gradual thing, this so-called unwritten code. But now it is understood. You don't attack a fallen man.

"The unwritten rules among elite bike riders hold that a rider should win through effort and talent, not through misfortune on the part of competitors."

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    But what does that mean in practice? Are you not allowed to overtake someone with mechanical or physical problems? Sounds silly. In Cyclocross we don’t have such inhibitions.
    – Michael
    Jul 25, 2015 at 5:25
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    @Michael It's bad form to attack in response to the misfortune, which is what Nibali appeared to do. If you were already attacking before or just happen to pass the unfortunate rider, tant pis.
    – Deditos
    Jul 25, 2015 at 10:03
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    @Davor "In bad form" means "Everyone will hate you if you do it." In road cycling, you're very reliant on the cooperation of other riders: if they hate you, they won't do that. Jul 25, 2015 at 13:39
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    @Davor Well, the TdF is a 90h race won by a handful of minutes, it undermines the efforts of almost the whole peloton if someone nicks those minutes from someone else’s misfortune. The shorter the race, the less it matters.
    – Deditos
    Jul 25, 2015 at 14:17
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    @Deditos On the other hand, it should be possible to build a bike that works perfecly for a mere 90 hours (even less, in reality, since they use multiple bikes, especially for different kinds of stages). So it's easy to imagine them cycling in a parallel universe where manufacturers are pressured into creating more reliable bikes by riders who lose out badly if their bike breaks down. Essentially, the question is why we're in the universe we're in, instead of the one I just described. (Cosmology is on-topic here, right? ;-) ) Jul 25, 2015 at 15:27

There is no rule saying you must wait. But that behavior comes from understanding the sport's first principle. The UCI regulations say

Section 2: bicycles


... The principle asserts the primacy of man over machine. ...

So cyclists are meant to be competing against each other, not each other's bikes. It's a fine line.


  • And that rule is the one used to keep the poors firmly in their place. Mochet, Moulton and Obree all fell foul of the "only rich people can innovate" rule that lets rich teams run custom carbon fibre bikes for each rider in each event against teams using steel frames.
    – Móż
    Jul 26, 2015 at 22:02
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    Hey @Mσᶎ! Welcome back!
    – andy256
    Jul 26, 2015 at 22:36

You have some very good bicycle answers. This is more unwritten rules in other sports.

Many sports have unwritten rules and I would argue they are good for the sport.

Typically it is about sportsmanship and you let the players address it rather than than try and address it in the rules.

These unwritten rules rarely rise to the level of a tradition as they do in bicycle racing. The closest thing may be leaving center court together at Wimbledon.

In hockey you have enforcers. In baseball if you show up a pitcher you are likely to get an intention hit by pitch the next at bat. In car racing pits loan tools and parts and are not required to. In basketball you have trash talk but in golf you don't. In skating and many sports competitors will coach each other even during competition. In soccer they may tank a free kick if they felt the penalty was not correct. In bicycle racing on the final day if there is a clear winner they just ride and a tight battle for 2nd and 3rd would rather race. Permission to ride first through your home town is a self policed and fall back to the pack has not always been honored.

Not going to argue if it is a good practice or not for bicycle racing but I am for let the practice be the practice. If the riders want to do it in their sense of fairness then let them. If I hold back I only penalize myself (and team). Let a team decide not to honor the practice some day.

In pretty much all sports there is a sense of fairness that practiced and not part of the rules. And I think it is good for the sport and spectators.

soccer example

  • I've never heard of a football penalty being deliberately missed because the team felt they shouldn't have been given it: do you have any examples? What is more common is that, if a player is injured, the team that has the ball may deliberately kick the ball into touch. When play resumes, the other team gets the throw-in but gives the ball back to the team that had it before play stopped. Jul 25, 2015 at 15:31
  • @DavidRicherby Would a specific example change the message of my answer in any way?
    – paparazzo
    Jul 25, 2015 at 15:37
  • Addressing it in the comments would be fine but I think you should give some evidence that deliberately missing penalties is something that happens in football. As I said, I've never heard of it happening and, if it doesn't happen, it's simply not a form sportsmanship in another sport. If it happens only extremely rarely, it's not a comparable example. Jul 25, 2015 at 15:43
  • @DavidRicherby Just because you have not heard of it happening does not mean it did not happen or it is not a valid example of sportsmanship. And I bet there has been trash talk in golf. And I don't have specific citation of a pit loaning a part. No I don't have a specific citation of tanking tanking free kick. If I subbed in your example of a deliberately kick the ball into touch it would not change the nature or intent of my answer in any way.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 25, 2015 at 15:56
  • @Blam - do you know how we call people who say they don't need sources for their claims? Dude, this isn't Tumblr.
    – Davor
    Jul 26, 2015 at 13:35

You answered your own question: it's not sporting behavior. It's also considered to be deeply unprofessional. You might gain an advantage that one time but after that everyone would be gunning for you. Also every rider has bad luck at some point. The professional courtesy you extend to a rider will one day be returned to you.

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    I was looking for a little more history on the subject as well as why it's considered unsportsmanlike. I don't think it has always been the case that riders were supposed to wait for others when they had a mechanical. They used to be entirely self sufficient, and Eugène Christophe even had to find his way to a blacksmith to fix his own fork. Nobody waited for him.
    – Kibbee
    Jul 25, 2015 at 2:20

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