There are a number of unwritten rules in the professional road peloton but none are more vague than the one covering mass crashes on slick roads, as happened on Stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

It's often confusing for fans who just want to see bike racing. Why don't they go? Why aren't they waiting? When do you go? Do you wait? But the peloton has its own reasoning and makes these contextual decisions on the fly. Unwritten rules are like that.

On Stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia both Michael Matthews and Cadel Evans benefited from the late stage crash which destroyed the peloton as it approached the defining Monte Cassino climb.

Both riders were well positioned and had team-mates with them, as well as eventual second place getter Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and the man who would finish fourth, Matteo Rabottini of Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo.

While the carnage behind them was unfolding there was no hesitation in the front group. They kept riding hard, particularly Matthews's team-mate on the lower slope, Luke Durbridge who burnt every match as he drove the group as far away from the desperate chase behind, and BMC's Daniel Oss. The decision was clearly made on the road, instinctual. We ride, this is bike racing and we're going to take our advantage.

The rest, as they say, is history and one of the most memorable days in Australian professional cycling. And that's saying something.

The end result was Evans increasing his lead on his nearest rivals and Matthews winning a stage he always thought he could, in the Maglia Rosa.

As always, much of the post stage conversation was centered around whether this was ethical. Shouldn't the eight unaffected riders who made up the front group have sat up? Was it right given the nature of the crash that they didn't?

With the climb fast approaching, Evans and Matthews were exactly where they were supposed to be, solidly at the front with team support.

"I've already heard the polemics but what could we do? They were in front, they were already riding and they were up there in a favourable position," BMC sports director Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews.

In the past few years we've seen incidents where the peloton waited for riders, notably and similarly at the 2012 Tour de France when Fabian Cancellara used his authority to slow the peloton after slick roads caused several crashes.

My take on this is that the front group could not have really known the full extent of what had happened behind, so for them the race continued as normal. Positioning and race craft also matters. Why should riders be penalised for being on their game? Where else would you find the Maglia Rosa and the leading general classification rider at that stage?

The weather conditions were doubtful and the race was coming to its conclusion. If the crash had occurred mid-stage there is no question the leaders would have soft pedalled while the peloton surveyed the damage and reorganised. On a climb with the finish fast approaching, no dice.

"For that reason, we were in front leading the group," said BMC's Steve Morabito. "We have prepared for this Giro at the best and we are really focused on that."

I'll let a rider who has been on the receiving end of one of these incidents (2009 at the Vuelta a Espana when the Alejandro Valverde led peloton attacked as he waited for a team car after a puncture) have the last word, Cadel Evans.

"Our job is to race and to race to the finish. That's the first thing on our mind. What happened behind, I really have no idea. I haven't seen it. Unfortunately, it has been a very bad day for some of the riders."

SBS will broadcast every stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia LIVE! There will be nightly highlights at 5:30pm on SBS ONE, and each stage will also be streamed live here at Cycling Central.