High Time for Change

It's about time the race organizers stepped up and made a tough decision to protect rider safety. Over the past few years, we have seen stages neutralized or flat out canceled, but only when the riders demanded safer conditions. Yesterday, race organizers at Tirreno - Adriatico cancelled Stage 5 due to snow covered mountain passes being unrideable. Race Director Mauro Vegni announced yesterday that, “The weather is expected to worsen. Even today [Saturday], my people were on all the stage’s check things [sic]. Unfortunately, conditions aren’t suitable to hold the race, especially as things will get worse. We’ve decided not to risk the rider’s health.”

This decision came just 3 days after sister event, Paris - Nice, cancelled Stage 3 mid race due to snowfall. Last year, riders complained that this very stage in Italy was dangerous to rider health and safety. Veteran rider Fabian Cancellara, tweeted this message after the race to call out the blizzard-like conditions the peloton had to endure that day. Just weeks earlier, Cancellara led a strike at Stage 5 of the Tour of Oman, demanding rule changes to combat extreme weather conditions. That day in Oman, temperatures reached over 40 Celsius, causing tires to burst on the blazing hot asphalt. The riders pulled over under a flyover where Cancellara led talks with team leaders and race directors.

Rider safety is something the UCI and race organizers need to prioritize. From a spectator standpoint, harsh conditions add to the entertainment value of the race. Seeing riders climb tall mountains through a blizzard is television gold, but when a rider is seriously injured, things need to change. Thankfully, riders haven’t gotten to this point, but a dramatic turn of events could lead to horrible things happening to the peloton.

Last year’s Gent - Wevelgem forced almost all of the peloton to abandon, with only 39 of the 200 starters finishing the race. Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas was blown off the road into a ditch, while others were blown into a stream. No neutralization happened either. Now, I’m not advocating for increased race stoppings (you can hear me complain about them in Episode 0), but a check of the weather before and during a race can help prevent a cycling disaster.

I am glad that today's stage is cancelled in Italy, but that does greatly affect the GC racers. With Stage 5 being the Queen’s Stage, riders like Tejay Van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema, and Thibaut Pinot had planned on having their climbing techniques put to the test up the mountains before heading to flatter terrain and the final stage time trial. Some of have suggested, mostly notably Astana General Manager Alexander Vinokourov, that tomorrow's stage include an uphill finish to give climbers a chance to shine. Because all alternate routes are unrideable tomorrow, the climbers and GC favorites will see their efforts go unfulfilled, and race organizers planning gone to waste.

As we spoke about on our last episode, a calendar change may be necessary for both Paris - Nice and Tirreno Adriatico. I have given some suggestions to improve the situation in a previous article about expanding races outside of Europe to insure rideable weather and bring the World Tour to the world.

Riders want to race the most competitive races, and are willing to race in these parts of the world at this time, but rider safety must be at the forefront of race planning. Obviously, changes are in order, and look out for more news from the UCI and more thoughts and commentary from me in the near future.