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July 19, 2010

ChainGate, Tour de France, and Web 2.0

In today's Tour de France, Stage 15, the two leading contenders - Andy Schleck in the yellow jersey, and Alberto Contador who was thirty seconds behind him - were climbing the final hill of the day. The hill was "hors categorie" (without category, or more appropriately beyond categorization).

The moment came for the competitors to accelerate. Andy Schleck shifted into a higher gear and pushed the pedals hard, resulting in his chain coming off the gears. Schleck came to a stop, wrestled with the chain, and got back in the race - but he lost 39 seconds to Contador, and at the end of the stage he was 8 seconds behind instead of 31 seconds ahead.

Contador made enough time out of Schleck's mechanical misfortune to move from second place into first place, and to wear the yellow jersey at the end of the day. There was some jeering from the crowd when he appeared on the podium to put on the maillot jeaune, accusing him with poor sportsmanship in capitalizing on Schleck's mechanical.

In some other Tours, the two main rivals have treated each other with great courtesy. Famously, Lance Armstrong waited for Jan Ullrich in 2001 when he had a problem, and in 2003 Jan Ullrich returned the favor and waited for Lance Armstrong when he went down.

In this year's tour, Cancellara neutralized Stage 2 after a large accident delayed half the peloton. Significantly, when Contador was delayed in Stage 3, Andy Schleck did not wait for Contador.

Personally, I get Contador's decision to ride. Two other contenders, Sanchez and Menchov, were with them and continued to press on, and he couldn't take the risk of giving them time. What intrigues me is the way the dilemma played out in Web 2.0.

The Twitterverse was alive with comments about #chaingate. Riders from today's tour were contributing to the discussion. The pithiest tweet came from Gerard Vroomen, co-founder of the Cervelo TestTeam, who first posted : Contador just gained a great chance to win, but he lost the chance to win greatly. Poetry in less than 140 characters.

Later, after reflection, Vroomen updated: Alberto has a tiny point: Schleck didn't wait for him after the cobblestone crash so complaints about fair play ring hollow.

So these teams and athletes, whose payroll is driven by their representation of their corporate sponsors, are moving into Web2.0 to advance their cause. Before the end of the night, Alberto Contador has made this movie and posted it on YouTube:

This is professionally done, and very well done. What impresses me is the media effort that allows them to script, film, produce, sub-title and distribute an earnest bit of spin in less than eight hours after a potential negative public relations event. Very Web 2.0.


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