Astana rider Andrei Grivko has been removed from the Dubai Tour after punching QuickStep sprinter and Ivan Drago look-a-like Marcel Kittel. Okay, so it was reportedly actually an elbow, and the bloody photos were pretty alarming, but in classic sixth-grade style, there are two sides to the story. Grivko refused to speak to reporters immediately after the stage, perhaps wisely choosing to hit the showers instead of saying something he’d later regret. Cooled down, he explained that Kittel had repeatedly pushed him out of the peloton, which for much of the day’s windy race had been spread out in a series of dramatic echelons.
But in defense of Grivko, and if his claims are true, there appear to be two levels of treatment in the peloton, where team leaders can dictate the positioning of other riders, and those other riders at the mercy of the ‘big’ riders with big contracts. There has always been a deserved hierarchy in any group ride, but when does that become dangerous? There are plenty of stories of the deference given to riders like Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain and the famous names that make up the sport’s history. It’s easy to recall Tours where dozens of riders went out of their way (and into the way of dozens of other peons) to lead an escorted Armstrong through on the side of the road, carefully brought back to the front and ensconced behind his USPS train.
The Kittel-Grivko incident is perhaps a symptom of a more competitive and less civil peloton, one that many riders have noticed in recent seasons. Often, the change has been described as a new lack of respect for fellow riders, most evident in chaotic sprint stages at the Tour or Vuelta. This certainly isn’t the first punch up in a professional bike race, and it certainly isn’t the last. Still, with a changed environment, fewer teams and shrinking budgets, 2017 may be the year that this sort of distraction becomes slightly more common, although no one hopes that is the case.
In a fitting twist, today’s Dubai stage was canceled due to high winds. Maybe Kittel and the riders still in the race can take a day to cool off, literally and figuratively, before getting back to racing.