Lance Armstrong Good Sport in Yellow Jersey

On a morning where some lighthearted news is welcome, we have the story of Lance Armstrong’s declining to wear the yellow leader jersey at the Tour de France out of respect for a fellow competitor.

Armstrong displays his classy side (Fox News)

Dave Zabriskie has earned a reputation among his peers as quite the prankster and often conducts impromptu on-the-bike interviews with other riders during races for his web site, www.davezabriskie.com. In one of his more notorious journalistic moments, Zabriskie asked Liquigas rider Charlie Wegelius if he’d ever actually had Liquigas — the kind you get after eating a dodgy plate of takeout (in fact he had). But when Zabriskie left the hospital last night to greet the press, none of his trademark humor was evident on his grim visage. The outlandish but camera-shy CSC rider reported he’d received stitches in his elbow but didn’t have any broken bones and would continue the race.

In a move that will only bolster his status as a legendarily classy athlete among his peers, Armstrong said he would ride today’s stage in his Discovery kit rather than in the yellow jersey because he had earned the lead due to Zabriskie’s crash.

Professional cyclists often launch into NFL-worthy displays of ego when they cross the finish line first. Case in point: After Aussie Robbie McEwen defeated his archrival Tom Boonen in Wednesday’s sprint, McEwen raised his arms in triumph and pointed at himself repeatedly. The message was clear: I am the man now, Tommy Boy.

But peacock flourishes at the finish line aside, class, sportsmanship, and respect are of paramount importance to pro cyclists. When Jan Ullrich misjudged a corner and crashed on the descent of the Pyresourde in the Pyrenees in the 2001 Tour, Armstrong waited for the German before continuing to race. In the 2003 Tour when Armstrong’s handlebars snagged a spectator’s bag on the decisive climb up Luz Ardiden and he hit the deck hard, his rivals, Ullrich included, slowed to let Armstrong regain the front before screaming to the summit. Ullrich could have attacked and taken advantage of Armstrong’s mishap but instead he waited. Armstrong went on to crush him by 40 seconds. Ullrich lost the day and the chance to snatch back precious seconds, but he had returned Armstrong’s favor from the 2001 Tour and maintained his reputation as a class act.

The gesture was shortlived, however, as race organizers forced the issue:

Armstrong Backs Down to Race Organizers (AP)

Lance Armstrong had second thoughts about wearing the coveted yellow jersey at the Tour de France. His choice immediately became clear when the race director told him to wear it — or he wouldn’t be allowed to race.

“It didn’t feel right to take the jersey on somebody else’s misfortune,” the six-time defending champion said. Armstrong, who retained his overall lead Wednesday, tried to start the day without the leader’s yellow jersey on his back. Out of “respect” for David Zabriske, who lost it when he crashed a day earlier, Armstrong set off in the pre-race ride wearing his blue and white Discovery Channel uniform. But race officials stopped everybody before the starting line and asked Armstrong to put on le maillot jaune.

“There was no problem, just a little confusion in the beginning, having not started in the jersey,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t feel that it was right to start in the jersey.”

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc then got strict about the rule book, which states that the overall race leader “must wear” the yellow jersey. “There was no negotiation,” Armstrong told France-2 television. “Jean-Marie said: `You don’t start in the jersey, and you don’t start tomorrow.’ So I said ‘OK.'”

Fair enough. A classy gesture nonetheless.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.