Following Patrick Bevin's crash 10km from the end of Saturday's fifth stage from Glenelg to Strathalbyn at the Tour Down Under, there was some uncertainty as to whether the other teams had actually waited for him to come back – and if they didn't, whether they should have.
With so much at stake – both for the sprinters' teams looking for the stage win and for Bevin trying to retain his race lead – but with the kilometres rapidly ticking down, any lull could only be brief.
As Bevin chased back to the front of the race thanks to his CCC teammates and some canny use of his team car, the sprinters' teams soon had no choice but to organise themselves for the sprint finish.
"Everyone was really nervous, and everyone was trying to hold position," EF Education First directeur sportif Tom Southam told Cyclingnews ahead of the start of Sunday's sixth stage. "That just drives the speed up. It would have been a really difficult job for anyone to actually go to the front of the group that close to the finish and to get everyone to slow down. But I think the teams just held their positions for a little while. No one was really ready yet to step in to do their lead-out because it was still a bit early.
"Put it this way: no one sought to immediately profit from it [Bevin's crash]," said Southam. "Which I think is as fair as you can be. If someone had hopped on the front, that would have been different. I don't think anybody did anything wrong yesterday, and I think that's all you can expect in that situation.
"There are these sort of unwritten rules, which are important as well, and don't forget it's only January, so whatever you do here, you've got the whole rest of the season..." he continued, suggesting that a strong sense of "we're all in this together" exists, and that no one wants to rub anyone else up the wrong way – especially not this early in the year.
"So there was an element of that, but I think the key thing is that nobody stuck the boot in. I think our guys were the same: they wanted to hold position, they wanted to look after Mike [Woods]. They were just focused on that, and I think that's as much as anyone can ask."
Southam said he thinks that pro bike racing is a long way from unique in having such a set of 'unwritten rules', but that there's a time and a place for them to be employed; that they need to be used sparingly.
"If someone's injured in a football [soccer] match, the other team kicks the ball into touch," Southam pointed out. "But I'm actually a bit wary of it. I've seen it when I was racing: the yellow jersey stopping for a pee with 30km to go, and then getting annoyed that you're still racing.
"At the end of the day, there is a start line and a finish line, and I think it can go too far. When it's genuine, it's great – it's nice – but there are other times when it's just exploited – like anything in life. And I think that it is there in most sports, but that maybe we just don't understand it enough."
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