A rare occurrence in professional sports took place this week.
In Monday's 15th stage of the Tour de France, overall leader and super-human athlete Lance Armstrong crashed his bike with more than six miles left in the 122.45 mile route.
Armstrong's closest competitor, Germany's Jan Ullrich, trailed the leader by a mere 15 seconds. It was the closest Ullrich, or any other rider, has ever been to Armstrong in four years this late in the tour.
Then the oddest thing happened as Armstrong lie on the road. What Ullrich did next made me pause, scratch my head and try to comprehend his actions.
He stopped and waited. Ullrich, who, for the past four years has seen nothing but Armstrong's dust collector, stopped his bike and waited for Armstrong to dust himself off, climb back on his bike and continue the race.
What? Waited? Let me get this straight. Ullrich, who finally had a chance to dethrone the king of professional biking, waited? Why didn't he take off on a dead sprint and use Armstrong's poor luck to his advantage?
Because two years ago, Armstrong did the same for Ullrich. In the 2001 Tour, Ullrich fell on a fast descent. Armstrong and the rest of the racers waited until Ullrich could continue.
What's even more amazing is that Armstrong, once back on his bike, turned that tiny 15-second lead over Ullrich into a 67-second lead by the end of the stage. Ullrich may have lost this Tour de France because of his good gesture.
The fact of the matter is these Tour riders don't want to win because of another man's misfortunes. They want to win knowing they went up against the best and came out on top. Thankfully, Tour riders don't have the win-at-all-cost mentality.
That can't be said for other professional sports. Not long ago the nation was embroiled in the saga of Sammy Sosa and his exploding corked bat. Sosa thought we were all stupid enough to buy his excuse that the illegal bat was used for just batting practice. He showed what he thought of baseball fans.
Like they say, it's not cheating if you don't get caught. Well, Sosa cheated and got caught. One of the most famous cases of cheating was Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. He was stripped of his gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics because he tested positive for steroids.
Johnson was caught cheating and paid the price.
The Tour de France has had its fair share of drug doping problems, with Armstrong at the center of the issue. But he has never once tested positive for an illegal substance and on Tuesday passed another such test.
When talking about Ullrich's gesture on Monday, Armstrong called him a "a good guy," and an "honorable guy." These are words you don't hear in the locker rooms or the practice fields of big money professional sports teams.
And now we stand in the midst of another controversy involving a high priced star. Kobe Bryant's alleged sexual assault of a 19-year old Colorado girl has the nation's full attention.
Bryant was the apple of the NBA's eye. A young star with a squeaky clean image. Not anymore. Bryant's explanation of the incident was as laughable as Sosa's. He claimed it was adultery, not assault. That makes it all better, right? It's not cheating if you get caught.
That's what makes the Tour de France and the display of sportsmanship and good competition so refreshing. We're accustomed to reading about and watching athletes selfdesruct. When we see a display of good heartedness during the heat of battle like Ullrich showed, we tend to do a double-take.
Ullrich has taken a beating since Monday from the German media for not taking advantage of a fallen Armstrong.
And if Ullrich loses the Tour again to Armstrong, will he kick himself for not taking advantage of the fall?
My guess is he won't.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.