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Two unwritten rules of professional cycling clashed earlier this month during the seven-day La Vuelta Femenina 2023 in Spain.
One rule says that contenders for the overall (general classification) title should not accelerate if an opponent — particularly the current race leader — suffers a minor accident, bike malfunction, or takes a bathroom break. The other rule says that if a team has planned to accelerate at a certain point in the race, then it shouldn’t have to abandon those plans because the opponent or leader takes a pee break.
During the sixth stage of La Vuelta Femenina, Dutch rider Demi Vollering of Team SD Worx had a five second lead over fellow Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar Team. Approximately 36 kilometers (22.4 miles) into the 106.7-km (66.3-mi) stage, Vollering and several of her teammates and riders for other teams stopped for a pee break. They may have stopped so early in the race because live televised coverage had not yet begun.
At about the same time, van Vleuten’s Movistar Team and a few other teams began accelerating into a crosswind. Van Vleuten and others later said the move came at a point they had picked before the race began because they were familiar with the terrain. Meanwhile, race officials ordered the cars accompanying the race to pull to the side of the road, preventing the cyclists who had stopped from using the cars to draft back to the front.
By the time the stage ended, Vollering was 1 minute 11 seconds behind van Vleuten. Ultimately, after 740.7 kilometers (460.25 miles), van Vleuten finished the race in first place with a time of 19 hours and 11 seconds – nine seconds faster than Vollering. "If it hadn't been for that (pee break) I'd have won this Vuelta," Vollering said.
The unwritten rules of bathroom breaks in cycling:
- Slovak rider Peter Sagan, a seven-time points classification (green jersey) winner of the Tour de France, told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that many younger riders don’t adhere to the unwritten rule about stopping to take a bathroom break and simply pee in the middle of the peloton, sometimes getting fellow riders wet.
- In 2021, Tour de France riders Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma and Luke Rowe of Ineos Genadiers were each fined 200 Swiss francs ($222.62 USD) for “inappropriate behavior — urinating in public.”
- During stage 16 of the 2017 Giro d’Italia, race leader Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb was suffering from stomach problems that required him to take a "nature break." Russian rider Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin launched an attack. Dumoulin finished the stage in 13th place, but was fast enough to hold onto the overall race leader’s jersey.