This time last year the UCI had brought in new rule requiring riders to stick to the road. This time last year the peloton ignored it. The result is that the UCI changed the rule and riders can use paths as long as it’s safe to do so.
Also Ian Stannard appears 10 times harder than the rest in the image above. But he ended up on the cobbles by accident, briefly missing a move adopted by everyone else.
That’s the new text. Note the woolly wording where it is “strictly prohibited… …if a dangerous situation is created” or if it “procures a significant advantage“. So it’s forbidden if it leads to something happening but in the heat of a race when a rider flicks onto a footpath they simply can’t forecast if it’s going to be dangerous. Presumably if some idiot pulls a wild move by switching across the road to dive onto a cycle path causing spectators to leap out of the way then it is dangerous whereas the imagine of riders switching onto the dirt footpath isn’t because wise spectators have left the route clear. As for “significant advantage” this is hard to quantify but presumably we’re talking about taking a short cut.
Up to the race?
If a race organiser picks a cobbled road it’s because they want to soften up the riders in the same way a cook softens a steak with a meat tenderiser. So is the sight of riders jumping onto the smoother path undignified? Not really. Because the path is faster and easier means there’s another fight for position and the riders are lined out. Nobody can overtake because it means having to cross into the damp grass section and being slowed by the sticky mud. So knowing this section is coming up is helpful to save energy.
Stannard: hardman or error?
The image above suggests brute force, a man who gives the cobbles a pounding while the others shirk on the sidelines. But revisit the race footage and reality is less prosaic: he made a mistake.
It’s the Varenstraat outside Kerkhove and entering the cobbled section Stannard appears to miss the moment to switch onto the footpath. In the clip above, see 1m54s as Stannard looks to be trying to overtake riders and moves left to pass just as the entrance to the path arrives. As others dive right, Stannard is too far on the left of the road to make the move. He pays the price for the inattention and has to endure the stones for a while before he flick across the road to get a wheel. A mistake? Yes but one to learn from and it made a memorable image.
Last year the UCI tried to block riders from leaving the road but it didn’t work and the rules got tweaked. Following the weekend’s racing several people, including riders and journalists, were asking why the rule wasn’t being enforced. It’s been changed and it’s permissible to ride on the side. The rule change isn’t perfect, it’s subjective even when viewed from the cool position of a desk meaning it’s a lot harder to interpret when you’re in the middle of a race.