Some enthusiasts compare the peloton to a formation of birds. To get a better understanding of how this integrated unit works it is necessary to look at a description of a group of birds as stated by Craig Reynolds Boids, who writes software to simulate various types of animal and human behavior: “The motion of a flock of birds is simple in concept yet is so visually complex it seems randomly arrayed and yet is magnificently synchronous. Perhaps most puzzling is the strong impression of intentional centralized control.”
In races such as the Tour De France and the Giro d’Italia cyclists riding in a peloton are required to make adjustments according to others in the group. Athletes in the front are in the most advantageous spot for a number of reasons including less injury in case of a collision, less chance of getting sucked into a slow group if it were to drift back and less energy spent on reacting to other riders.
Boids interest in bird formations led him to develop three rules to be followed by each bird. The applications, which can also be related to that of cyclists in a peloton, consist of sticking with the flock, flying at the same speed as the flock and not bumping into one’s neighbors.
The fact that competitors are required to work together regardless of whether or not they are on the same team is challenging enough. However, there exists another aspect involved in this cycling platoon called peloton etiquette, or the set of ethical rules that participants abide by—or else.
One example of a disturbance in peloton etiquette that resulted in a dazzlingly creative reaction from other riders happened in 1978 during the Tour De France. One French rider decided to take advantage of a bathroom break by not participating in it on more than one occasion. In normal propriety, when a toilette break is called there are two options: To join in, or to continue riding at a significantly slower pace.
With the set of guidelines well in mind the French cyclist continued on his way at a much higher velocity. Perhaps the others would have let it slide once, but the advantageous rider seemed to have developed the “bathroom-break-for-it” as a technique. The others in the peloton got their revenge when their rule-breaking acquaintance needed a pit stop. Some of the riders slowed down, grabbed their betrayer’s bike and threw it into a nearby ditch, wherein not seeing what had happened he could not find his vehicle. On a similar note, scientific studies on the reactions of birds to unethical behavior while in a formation is yet to be performed.