During the 14th stage of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins exhibited a touching act of class and honor that would never occur in any other major sporting event.
Chaos struck in the Pyrenees when tacks and nails were dispersed across the course by an unknown saboteur. The tiny objects inflicted monumental damage, delaying 30 cyclists whose bikes were derailed by the tacks.
One of the competitors slowed down was defending champion Cadel Evans, who is still in striking distance of repeating. As Evans waited for a spare wheel, precious seconds ticked off his time and placed his chances of claiming his second straight Tour de France crown in serious jeopardy.
Then Wiggins, who currently sits on top of the leaderboard, decided to slow down instead of taking advantage of the other competitors' misfortune. The British cyclist still holds a 3:19 lead over Evans, but he could have gained more ground over his foe in the 14th stage.
While such action is considered proper cycling etiquette, it is still incredible to picture an athlete exercising restraint during the biggest event of his life. Wiggins still boasts a sizable 2:05 edge over second-place cyclist, and Sky teammate, Christopher Froome, but his first-place finish is far from secure with a week left.
Imagine witnessing a similar act of sportsmanship in another sport. If an NFL defender fell while running down the field during the Super Bowl, do you think the quarterback would hold off on throwing the football to his wide-open receiver until the defender recovered? If an outfielder tweaked his hamstring running to field a hit, what are the chances the baserunner politely stops at second base?
Something tells me the Philadelphia 76ers never considered benching Andre Iguodala to even the score after the Chicago Bulls lost their star, Derrick Rose, in the first game of their NBA playoff series.
Athletes are ruthless creatures who smell blood a mile away and exploit their opponent's weakness. They are conditioned by coaches to never make excuses or accept any excuses from the other side. After avoiding the carnage caused by the tacks, it took rousing integrity for Wiggins to not employ the hindrance to his advantage.
Often in sports, we'll hear the popular quote that "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Well, maybe there are other things—like class, pride and human decency—that far too often get lost in the midst of ruthless competition.
For an event mostly in the news because of Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France can benefit from Wiggins' noble gesture. Unfortunately, an act of kindness does not draw attention the way a scandal does.
Kudos to Wiggins for not letting glory get in his way of conducting himself like a gentleman. Maybe the sporting community could stand to take a page from cycling's playbook and learn that life isn't always about obtaining the upper hand at all costs.