13 April 2015
With a delay of ten minutes Paris-Roubaix 2015 took off on the 12th of April, 2015. A delay of ten minutes. Okay, but why? More viewers later in the afternoon? Was there another sport on the television first? Or was there a change in the time table of the trains? The last question is the one that went through my head immediately. My brain slowly activated and took me back to a situation in Paris-Roubaix in 2006.
Tom Boonen, Juan Antonio Flecha and Alessandro Ballan were standing behind the barriers, waiting for the train to pass. According to Belgian commentator Michel Wuyts the riders were ahead of schedule and rode too fast that day. The organisation didn’t think they would be that fast and thought that no trains could interfere with the race. Still, this happened. Those three had to stop, because the train was already passing. But just a few seconds earlier three others riders ignored the red signs and the falling barriers. Peter van Petegem, Vladimir Gusev and Leif Hoste, as you can see here.
Fabian Cancellara won that day. He never saw a train, he never knew about the whole incident. He came solo over the finish and he deserved to win. But the number 2nd, 3rd and 4th got disqualified. Never disobey the rules of the UCI. It’s on page 33 of the Road Regulations for Road Races: “It shall be strictly forbidden to cross level crossings when the barrier is down. Apart from risking the penalty for such an offence as provided by law, offending riders shall be eliminated from the competition by the commissaires.”
So what’s exactly my point here? Well, in the edition of 2015 some riders did exactly the same as van Petegem, Gusev and Hoste. They crossed level crossings while the barriers were going down. The only difference with 2006 is that not three riders, but half of the peloton did it. A TGV was on its way and a whole bunch of riders still took the risk of going over the level crossing. Dangerous and not necessary at all, because after this incident the peloton regrouped. No one got disqualified, because “everyone did it”.
And because everyone did it, it was allowed. Rules were ignored, eyes were looking the other way, no comments from the UCI. So John Degenkolb is the winner of Paris-Roubaix. Did he also cross the level cross when the barriers were falling down? Yes, he did! So technically, the actual winner of Paris-Roubaix stands between one of these riders below? Geraint Thomas could have won after all? Maybe. Maybe not. We will never know.
Ignoring the rules can sometimes be a good decision. We would have never had such a great final as the one we had this year. Still, if you decide to take up such a rule in your regulations, you should stick to it and follow it at all times. No exceptions. Although John Degenkolb is a really nice exception. You won’t hear me complain about this year’s winner of Paris-Roubaix.