In the 1913 Tour De France, Eugène Christophe was given a time penalty for allowing a blacksmith’s apprentice to assist him in repairing his forks. This is a far cry from modern, professional cycle racing. Riders now enjoy the relative luxury of neutral service, team cars, team mechanics, spare wheels and even spare bikes. However, they still have to adhere to strict rules when it comes to receiving assistance.
It is permissible to hand out minor items to other members of the peloton, but beyond that, the loaning of bikes or wheels, for example, is prohibited to within one’s own team. Furthermore ,’Technical Support’ as per UCI Cycling Regulation (Road Races) 2.3.029 can come from just three sources: the team, neutral service, or the broom wagon.
Taking a bicycle from an onlooker is, strictly speaking, outside the rules. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Here are five times pro riders used a spectator’s bike during a race:
Michael Rogers | 2002 | Tour Down Under
Michael Rogers started Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under second on GC, just one second behind leader Fabio Sacchi. With one stage win already under his belt, he looked a good choice for the title in his home tour.
By the end of the stage, the overall classification told a story of his 21 second lead over second place Alexandre Botcherov. However, statistics somewhat belie the drama he had to endure to get there.
Michael was in the breakaway when he came together a motorcycle. His chances of overall victory starting to look bleak. But no sooner had he thrown his team issue Colnago C40 to the side of the road, with its snapped dérailleur and broken wheel, a spectator offered an almost identical bike as a replacement.
As ProCyclingUK reported, the only difference between this and his official bike was the saddle height and colour. The frame size and even clipless pedal system were identical.
The whole episode happened so fast, he wasn’t much more than 40 seconds behind when he set off in pursuit of the breakaway. Not only did he catch them, he even managed to gain some bonus seconds an intermediate sprint.
His second place on the stage, behind Cadel Evans, was enough to elevate him to first overall. With no changes to the sharp end of GC after the final Stage 6 around Adelaide, the title was his.
Jens Voigt | 2010 | Tour de France
On Stage 16 of the 2009 Tour de France, Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank was forced to retire from the race after a heavy crash on the descent of the Col du Petit St Bernard. With a fractured cheek bone and concussion there was no question of him completing the stage, let alone making it to Paris.
A year later, again on Stage 16, history looked to be repeating itself when a front wheel puncture caused him to hit the tarmac hard on the descent of the Col de Pyresourde. Although he was given the medical all clear, his bike had not fared so well.
Speaking to the BBC, he describes how his team cars were up the road in support of Andy Schleck’s attempt at overall victory on G.C. This left him stranded, bloodied and bruised with no immediate way to re-join the race. Until, that is, he spotted some bikes on a car in the caravan and flagged down the driver.
That the car was carrying children’s bikes with pedals with toeclips was seemingly of more concern to the driver than Jens, but he did agree to lend him one. For 20 to 25 km Jens chased down the peloton on this undersized bike, with his new ad hoc team car hot in pursuit. Eventually he reached a policeman with whom Saxo Bank had left a spare.
Second bike swap of the day, now Jens’ focus was on finishing the stage within the time cut. From being 30 to 40 seconds behind at the top of the Pyresourde to fighting for his existence in the race, Jens told the BBC how he was determined to make sure that he didn’t DNF two years in a row.
He caught the gruppetto who, looking at the state of him, supported him all the way to the finish. Despite two broken ribs from the crash, he finished the stage and made it to Paris. Albeit in 126th on GC, the lowest position he had ever recorded.
Gorik Gardeyn (Vacansoleil) | 2011 | Tour de Wallonie
Stage 4 of the Tour de Wallonia saw Gorik Gardeyn of Vacansoleil suffer similar misfortune to Jens Voigt. A crash, his team bike destroyed and without an obvious replacement immediately to hand. Unlike Jens, however, his team car wasn’t deliberately up the road in support of a GC contender. Rather he was abandoned by the team as the team thought he had abandoned.
Gorik explains in a post race interview that he only felt he was able to continue after being treated by the doctor and that it was a cyclo tourist who was his bicycle lending saviour. Presumably having removed any adorning luggage,, Gorik was able to set out on a pursuit course towards the peloton.
With the tourer following in the broom wagon, he was soon reunited with his bike when Gorik united with his spare. He eventually finished 5 minutes and 56 seconds behind the day’s winner. But, despite rolling in 115th, his efforts earned him a visit to the podium to receive the combativity award for the stage.
Gorik was able to continue on to the final stage the next day finishing 107th overall, 21:33 down on GC.
Tyler Farrar | 2016 | Tour Down Under
14 years after Michael Rogers blazed a bike-borrowing trail at the Tour Down Under, Tyler Farrar decided to get in on the action for Stage 3 in 2016. At the start of the day, Tyler was 8:01 down on GC in 120th place. A fact that would hold some sway in the commissaires decision to allow him to continue racing the next day.
A crash 20 km from the line, at the foot of the final climb of the day kicked off the drama. According to the Guardian, Tyler flew into a ditch at 40 mph with both him and his bike emerging slightly worse for wear. Medical staff assessed that he was able to continue, but, after just a few kilometres it was evident to Tyler that his bike was not so capable. His team car was now up the roadand unable to help.
Tyler wasn’t exactly lucky for crashing and destroying a bike mid race, but it was certainly fortuitous he stopped where he did. Not only was he nearby someone willing to lend him thier prized De Rosa, but someone whose generosity extended to his pedal specific shoes. Whereas others in this list were worried about the bikes being too short, all Tyler had to contend with was a slightly larger shoe.
He eventually rolled across the finish line over 13 minutes down on the stage. Shortly after, he was reunited with the bike’s owner who had followed in the Broom Wagon. As Tyler explained on The Peloton Brief, his gratitude towards this fan for preventing his race from being cut short was immense.
His position in the race and the ‘hectic situation’ of a ‘bad crash’ involving multiple riders all factored in the commissaires’ decision to allow him to continue. At the end of Stage 6 he achieved a final GC placing of 131st almost 50 minutes down.
Sam Brand | 2018 | Commonwealth Games
Sam Brand had two goals in the 2018 Commonwealth Games Road Race in Australia. Proudly represent the Isle of Man along with his five other team mates and show what is possible for an athlete with Type 1 Diabetes. A crash early on in the first lap of the 18.7 km circuit along with continued mechanicals were putting these in jeopardy.
However, a theme running through these stories is that cyclists have an uncanny knack of stopping near someone with a suitable, if perhaps not perfect, replacement. Sam was no exception. His angel onlooker offered him a Specialized Tarmac in place of his Colnago Concept which he was able to complete two laps on before retiring.
115 riders started the road race and only 50 crossed the finish line. I imagine that the other 65 are still out there having a blast on anything from Choppers to Tricycles. Sam Brand, however, continues to ride for Team Novo Nordisk, a pro team exclusively of diabetic riders which races to ‘inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes’.