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In praise of the (sort of) definite

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Watching the Tour de France very briefly made me thankful for basketball officials.

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One of my very favorite summer events is the Tour de France. The legendary bike race cuts across France (and whichever other countries/cities) will pony up the cash to have the traveling circus in town for a day or two. 198 guys start with just over 2,000 miles to cover in the next 22 days. As my next ride for the year will only push me over 1,000 miles, I marvel at the effort. Oh, and they ride up mountains that also double as ski resorts and descend at speeds touch 70 miles an hour. It is, on the whole, an incredible spectacle and feat of athleticism.

It's also ruled by an arcane set of dictums that no one can make much sense of. The current raging debate is whether Warren Barguil was being reckless when he bumped into Geraint Thomas and sent him headlong into a telephone pole and down a gully. Thomas climbed back on his bike and finished, but he wasn't thrilled with his flying headbutt of a solid wooden object. If you are wondering what the rules say about this, well, that's the problem.

You see, the sport that we all love (and that you are probably hear to read about) is governed by an actual set of rules. Yes, there are referees that enforce them subjectively, but the rules are there in back and white for everyone to see. A shoulder barge like that earns your opponent two free throws and you another personal foul. There's not a lot of debate. If there is debate, there's a replay. If a replay doesn't sort it, there's always bellowing abuse at the official at the top of your lungs. It's definite. There is legal and illegal, and hopefully nothing in between.

Cycling, God bless it, doesn't have that. It's illegal to hold a bottle being handed out of a car in order to gain an advantage. How do riders get more water on 150 mile jaunts across the countryside? They take them as they are proffered out of cars. Do they hold them too long? Does the care accelerate too much as the rider is alongside? Can they take them going uphill? God knows. There is no definite rule, just whatever may be enforced that day. Wheel changes, pushes from a mechanic after a flat, following a teammate in a time trail, these all come under the penumbra of some rule that most of the riders don't even know.

So the next time one of Karl Hess' peers throws his hand up to make what is undoubtedly the worst call of all time, remember that at least you know why you are mad. Basketball officials may not be great, but at least we know the rules. The sort of definite beats a high speed guessing game.