It was a comedy of errors and a mildly tragic result. Bora-Hangrohe’s Nils Politt, a day after he was stuck chasing a successful breakaway, worked his way into a big move on Friday’s chaotic, difficult stage. It felt like the break that might make it. His group passed through a feed zone with just over 90 kilometers to go and his nightmare unfolded: a broken chain, no team car behind. He turned instead to Shimano’s neutral service.
In theory, this is exactly what the Shimano neutral service bikes are for. Get a rider moving, even if it’s not perfect. But it had two large problems. One, Nils Politt is as tall as a medium-sized tree. Two, he was riding Shimano pedals, and the bike on the right side of the neutral service car had Looks. The two are not compatible.
The mechanic pulled the first bike off, Politt swung a very long leg over it, looked down, realized he couldn’t clip in, and handed it right back.
The peloton was bearing down. He had mere moments to get back on something with wheels and begin his chase back to the front.
The mechanic pulled a second bike down. It had Speedplay pedals, also not compatible. Politt took one look and asked for a third. It was also small, because compared to Nils Politt most bikes are small, but this one at least had the right pedals. Politt got on the saddle again, but the angles were all wrong. He got off, exasperated, waving his hand with a “never mind, I’ll just wait.”
Inevitably, he ended up back behind the peloton. His team car was well back behind the main group, which is what made Shimano neutral his only option. The gap at that moment was hovering right around one minute, the threshold at which team cars are pulled into the gap between breakaway and peloton.
Shimano issued a statement apologizing to Politt for the debacle:
“At Shimano, we apologize to Nils Politt of BORA-Hansgrohe for the incident that happened today. Our Neutral Service mechanics are all professionally trained, with many years of experience. Often times in such high-pressure situations, miscalculations can happen. We again accept the mistake and apologize.”
A commendable statement. The situation was indeed unfortunate and the neutral service didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. But given Politt’s own status as an outlier in the peloton, it was not exactly a surprising outcome. The mechanic had less than a minute to get a man mountain back on a bike that would allow him to chase all the way up to a charging breakaway; if we’re honest, the end result was probably always inevitable.
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