Snow chaos in Catalonia

Thursday, 22 March 2012

and cycling?

A quick note on yesterday’s stage of the Tour of Catalonia that was due to finish in the ski station of Port Ainé until the snow appeared.

As a reminder, the day started with a forecast for snow and riders rolled out in cold rain. As the race progressed the rain turned to snow and a snowplough was busy ahead trying to clear the roads. Behind many riders were pulling out of the race and some were crashing out; a broken leg for Julian Dean. But late, after about 140km it was decided to shorten the stage and finish around the 155km mark. Janez Brajkovič won but the time gap from his breakaway with others was nullified.

The bad conditions, the uncertainty over the finish, the time gaps. What to make of it all?

First, let us remember that this race was about to be cancelled until an eleventh hour appeal for funds from the organisers saw the UCI step in and help secure the future of the race. Whilst the conditions were bad yesterday, organisers must have felt keen for the race to go ahead.

Ultimately though the decision is for the commissaires, the race referees. They have to take a view on the race, whether the race itself is safe and happening in acceptable conditions.

  • nullifying the breakaway’s time advantage makes sense because the finish was brought forward, any planned chase from behind could not take place.
  • bringing forward the finish seems to be the right idea given the planned finish line was under deep snow.
  • the weather was bad but no surprise.  The snow was forecast, after all the finish was in a ski resort.

Note the “show must go on” incentive of the race organisers. With their event under threat, presumably they didn’t want to disappoint the ski station that paid for the stage finish. At least the Port Aine ski resort gets publicity for prolific snow.

In situations like this it is not uncommon for the riders to approach race organisers and say enough is enough; we saw this in the Etoile de Bessèges. This wasn’t apparent yesterday, instead many riders quit the race one by one.

In summary, I don’t think much can be done to prevent situations like this. Bad weather rarely stops the sport. Riders race outdoors and nature brings wild weather sometimes, especially in the mountains and decisions on whether to race are made on the spot according to local conditions. The forecast did say snow but it was not snowing at the start yesterday and it was raining on most of the course.

Peter March 22, 2012 at 9:26 am

For the organizer, I know from my own experience, this is a very difficult decision. You have teams ready to ride, and riders who would rather be dry and warm. You have some riders who had hoped to keep the break alive and do well for their sponsors. You have hundreds or even thousands of staff and volunteers who slaved to make this all work. And you have a wonderful publicity opportunity. But above all else, you want rider safety protected and your image enhanced.

And you must live within the decisions of the officials.

So, you make decisions minute by minute. As JV said, there are no hard and fast rules. It is judgement. I, as any of us, can judge from a dry warm place. It is harder to judge from a rain soaked car with a cell phone, a lousy TV picture, and a hundred people giving you advice that all conflicts. My bias, and it is a bias, is to thank the organizers for making that call in the best way that they could under the circumstances.

Bill Ward March 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

With live TV coverage only happening in the final part of the stage I suspect they would have been under enormous pressure to keep the full length so a difficult decision to make. The grim faces of riders huddled together slogging through sleet and wind does make great viewing after all and crashes always make it into the highlights..

Owen March 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

Do we know yet whether those rider who abandoned are to be permitted to race today?

I’m not sure which side of that argument I sit: if you abandon you abandon. On the other hand, yesterday did seem to be extreme, with riders risking not just injury, but illness which could threaten their seasons.

Bundle March 22, 2012 at 10:09 am

Yes, the Volta was extremely unlucky, yet the should have had a better b-plan. The organizers and the judges seemed overwhelmed by developments. But kudos anyway to the organization, who had designed a mouth-watering race.
I think yesterday should confirm that March is no month for the Volta, which has always had the heights of the Pyrenees as referee. For a long time, it was the September race, and it was characteristically run and won by the best riders of its time. In September the Pyrenees are dry (it was the Vuelta who, at the time in April, suffered frequent cancellations of its ski-resort Pyrenean mountain-top finishes, but in a 3-week race it matters less).
Even June was better for the Volta. But September is the proper time for this race, which is the third-oldest stage race alive.

Champs March 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

If ever there was an intervening Act of God, I think you’re looking at it.

Exceptions for the time cut are one thing, but it seems to me that you would have to finish the stage to continue if it isn’t completely neutralized; it has a winner, after all.

Geoff Bumble March 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

Snow was a good possibility for this stage even back when the stage route was first announced. Riding through high mountains in March is always going to be a risk. What amazes me therefore is that the organisers didn’t have a plan B up their sleeves – an alternative route – in the eventuality that snow was going to disrupt the stage.

daniel March 22, 2012 at 11:02 am

Today’s start has been delayed because 5 teams (Katusha, OPQS, AG2R, FDJ + Saxo Bank) are stuck in their hotels, which are at 2000m altitude.

Velo Peloton March 22, 2012 at 11:56 am

Yesterday was the only day in the last 5 weeks when there would have been trouble getting to the ski stations, it was just bad luck.

ave March 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

What kind of plan B did you miss?
As I see there was a plan B, shortening the stage, which they did.

Bundle March 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm

There didn’t seem to be an alternative route, at lower altitude, in case there was too much snow at 1.700m and higher. But the Volta should be able to use the Cantò, the Bonaigua, the Mont Caro, or the Pradell, amazing high climbs, without fearing snowstorms. You wouldn’t program a Dauphiné Libéré in October, would you?

daniel March 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

The organisers of that other under-threat race Tour du Mediterranean did a better job rerouting their queen stage this year.

The Inner Ring March 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm

daniel: true but it was communicated earlier to the riders. I think in this case they were hoping it would get better during the day… when in fact the weather seemed to get worse. Note that as big as the race might be for the UCI calendar, the organiser is probably looking at Yahoo Weather on his smartphone for weather updates; it’s not like there’s a meteorologist employed.

daniel March 23, 2012 at 1:54 am

Yeah, the hope was always going to be naïve though. If there is any chance of snow there should be some definite back-up route.

Then again, roads can’t be closed at that short notice.

There’s no totally correct solution to something like this.

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