Lean On Me…And I’ll Lean Right Back

When I started bike racing I took a ‘cycling skills’ workshop. I learned a lot, and one of the things we were exposed to was ‘contact cycling’. Up until that workshop I was mistakenly under the impression that cyclists on two different bikes shouldn’t bang into each other.

In my mind, if there was contact it was time to panic.

But the workshop taught me differently. One of the most interesting drills was riding beside another rider while leaning hard into them…shoulder to shoulder. If both riders were committed to the drill, they could get some pretty hearty lean going into each other.

We did the drill on grass and at some pretty slow speeds. It was fun to find out that contact with another rider wasn’t necessarily time to panic.

But in yesterday’s Tour de France I saw a couple of interesting ‘lean on you’s’ that ended in POOR OUTCOMES.

In the first incident, the peloton was going all out in order to set up the finish for the sprinters. About 2 km from the finish there was a precarious right hand turn and a crash that ‘took out’ a couple of the sprinters. It was an example of ‘leaning gone bad’.

As they rounded the turn, a Lampre rider was on the outside of Mark Cavendish and appeared to lean into him.

Next thing you know, Cavendish’s leaning back on him. Only trouble is…Cavendish’s no longer leaning into the turn. And as he failed to make the turn, he took out a couple of other riders as well, including sprinter Oscar Freire.

Cavendish makes his living in the shoulder to shoulder battlefield at the end of bunch sprints and I suspect that he instinctively leans back on riders when they make contact. It’s an instinct that doesn’t work very well in turns.

The second incident occurred at the very end of the bunch sprint. Although the video below doesn’t show it very clearly, I saw a different replay showing Robbie Mc Ewen shouldering his way through on the left of the screen, causing the rider who you later see standing in the middle of the road with his arm raised, to veer into Tyler Farrar.

Only trouble was…the second rider’s bike was now attached to Farrar’s rear derailleur. Although he’s a strong young man, Tyler was unable to compete while riding one bike and pulling another along the pavement.

So what I see was a first incident in which aggressively leaning back into his opponent may have been Cavendish’s downfall and a second incident in which not leaning back enough to maintain his ‘line’ may have been the downfall of the rider who ultimately donated his bike to Ferrar’s sprinting efforts.

But it made for some very interesting racing, with me howling and popping up and down while safely perched on the edge of my couch.

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