Yesterday saw the Etoile de Bessèges race disrupted by cold weather. Snow, albeit light, and freezing temperatures were enough to worry riders and organisers alike and the second stage was shortened to 58km and once underway it was semi-neutralised by a bunch keen to get the task over and done with. Marcel Kittel won in the end.
So what to do, should riders race or is it sensible to cut short the stage or neutralise the event? My twitter timeline got a few messages from fans complaining and later in the day the view from a handful of pro riders was more mixed, some saying riders could not agree on what to do others saying they’ll train in colder conditions.
There’s no section UCI rulebook to quote this time, you cannot have a rule about temperatures and snowflakes, the decision to ride in weather conditions is about judgement. There are broader references such as “the organiser shall ensure that the race course or the competition grounds include no places or situations that could constitute a particular safety risk to anyone” and “riders shall act with utmost caution. They shall be held responsible for any accidents that they cause“. The health and safety component of the rulebook is more concerned with longer term monitoring and the appointment of team doctors, not meteorologists. So when it’s cold and icy, few are thinking of the rulebook, most are worried about slipping and crashing.
This is the difference between fans and pro riders. Many fans will think “I ride in these conditions” and indeed it is possible to ride in freezing temperatures, many you have to do this for months in a row during the winter. But how many people work in these conditions? This is the distinction, the 130 riders in Bessèges are doing a professional task, they are no longer riding for pleasure or on a solo training ride, instead a race is something else. If your workplace is a heated factory or an airconditioned office then it gets tricky saying people you conduct their job on ice.
Yesterday’s confusion was made worse because nobody seemed to know what was happening. Some riders wanted to race, others were riding to the commissaires care and asking to stop. When the race was halted some heckled the commissaires as they explained the race would skip the narrow backcountry roads and restart on the main roads and finishing circuit of the day. Then when the race was stop things got more confused. At first riders were due to ride on neutralised but then they were allowed to get in the team cars… only there was not enough in the vehicles for all the riders and their bikes.
This happens several times a year. Last year I think we saw a stage of Paris-Nice cut short because of snow and tomorrow’s GP degli Etruschi, the season-opener for Italians, has been redesigned to keep the race away from snow. You might remember the Tour of California last year too. From now until April snow is a possibility in many races across Europe and this continues almost all year with mountain stages where altitude and microclimates can bring blizzards in mid-summer.
I sense a split between fans hungry for sport and riders reluctant to work in tough conditions. Safety first is a common refrain for many workplaces but deciding where to draw the line is difficult. These things happen in the early season every year and there’s no easy answer. Except an invitation to the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman.