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This question was spurred by the incident that happened during the 9th stage of the 2017 TdF when Fabio Aru attacked Chris Froome right as he experienced a mechanical problem with his bike.

The breakaway group lead by Aru was eventually halted by other riders who maintained that they should wait until Froome recovered from the mechanical failure before attacking.

What are the unwritten rules in this type of situation? Is it considered bad sportsmanship to attack in this situation, even thought it's a race? Would a win in a this situation, having not stopped, be tainted in some way or recorded differently?

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    I added a Tour de France tag because the etiquette of the TdF is very particular and doesn't apply to other road races, necessarily. – RoboKaren Jul 13 '17 at 16:31
  • I think the answer is maybe applicable to Pro / High Level racing. When the riders are just "riders" (ie, pro mechanics are maintaining their bikes) I think their are different expectations than amateurs who are expected to do their own work / ensure their own mechanical suitability. My opinion (in the several "non-pro" races I've been in) is that mechanical issued riders are resoundingly dropped. – Deleted User Sep 22 '17 at 13:28
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It's just considered to be bad sportsmanship to take advantage of another rider's mechanical problem. The underlying idea is that, as much as possible, the race shouldn't be determined by random strokes of bad luck. It should be won and lost based on riders' strength, bicycle handling proficiency, as understanding of race tactics.

It is not technically illegal to attack in this situation. Had Aru continued the attack, most likely the other GC contenders would have followed, but openly chastised him later.

That scenario actually happened at the 2010 Tour when Contador attacked while Andy Schleck was dealing with a dropped chain. Contador stated afterward that he was in a group, the group was going hard, and he didn't know about Andy's chain issues. Other riders and commentators said that he shot past Schleck so fast that he must have known something was wrong and roundly criticized him. Whatever the case, Contador took the yellow Jersey that day and held it until the end for the overall win. (CAS later found him guilty of doping, stripped him of o the title, and gave it to Schleck who had come in second, but that's a different story.)

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    If the rider with the mechanical is anywhere behind you, does the unwritten rule still apply in the same way? I.e. would a rider near the front of a group be beholden to not try anything when someone near the back has issues? – Nathan Knutson Jul 13 '17 at 14:48
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    @NathanKnutson There's a big gray area. The important thing is how much that attack will impact the race. If a GC contender attacks while a domestique is dealing with a problem, no one is even going to notice. If GC contender A has a couple of bad stages and is down by 15 minutes, and GC contender B attacks while A is dealing with a mechanical, people might take note, but most likely no one is going to raise much of a fuss. In the two real world instances mentioned, the racers in question were running a tight race. That's what matters. – jimchristie Jul 13 '17 at 15:21
  • What if GC contender A starts the day 5 minutes ahead of B, but in that stage B has broken away and is out of sight of A, and then A has a mechanical, and B hears about it on the radio? – Nathan Knutson Jul 14 '17 at 17:50
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    Nathan, that would definitely fall into the "the race is on" category. – Noah Sutherland Jul 14 '17 at 19:32
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There's also the somewhat nebulous concept of whether or not "the race is on". Basically if you're cruising along in the peloton it would be extremely bad form to suddenly attack out of nowhere when you hear that the leader has had a mechanical, been caught up in a crash, etc. But if people have already started attacking each other, it's less fair to expect the favorites to stop racing and wait up, potentially wasting whatever opportunities existed on that stage. An example might be if the rider in 5th noticed that the riders in 3rd and 4th are having trouble keeping up. If the person in 1st has a mechanical and the whole group waits up for them, the rider in 5th potentially loses a chance to move onto the podium, through no fault of their own.

The "race is on" defense was used in this year's Giro d'Italia. The leader had some "gastric distress" right at the bottom of a major climb, when teams were already fighting each other for position with some in a group out front. The rider in 2nd started to wait up a little, but the other teams were attacking each other, so he had to stay with them. (http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/racing/giro-ditalia/the-race-was-on-we-couldnt-wait-for-him-say-tom-dumoulins-giro-ditalia-rivals-332303)

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Depends on whom you ask. Ideally there should be surveys to answer questions like this. Surveys for contenders, team leaders, supporters and so on. Just to get a rough idea. It is certainly possible that, like jim's answer, a majority would say it is not the best sportmanship. But there will also certainly be others saying technical failure is, after all, part of the sport. In fact one of the commenters on Belgian national television, an ex-racer and ex-coach, made exactly that claim saying something like 'it's a race, deal with it'.

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Cycling is a weird sport because you need to cooperate with your opponents. This leads to all kinds of surprising outcomes, such as choosing not to take advantage of an opponent's mechanical problem. We may refer to this as "poor form," but what it really is is bad politics. Rider A might take advantage of Rider B's bad luck one day, but may be dependent on Rider B in a later stage or future race.

This also leads to horse-trading in the peloton, where (for example) Rider A and Rider B are in a break together. Rider B is in contention, Rider A isn't, and Rider B offers Rider A a win in that day's stage in exchange for helping Rider B later in the race.

I'm not saying that courtesy and fellowship are alien to pro cycling, but these guys have intensely competitive personalities, and they owe their sponsors pictures of themselves crossing the finish line in first place, so I think in most cases, political calculation is a better explanation.

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