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High winds at the Clasica de Almeria in Spain on Sunday forced the race organiser to invoke the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol and shorten the race route.

An emergency meeting was called before the race involving the organiser, teams and riders as gusty winds of over 70kph (43mph) threatened to batter the riders as the took on the partly coastal route.

Originally, the riders started tackling the 184km route, but the race was subsequently neutralised as it proved virtually impossible to carry on riding.

Cyclists shelter from the wind in the 2016 Clasica Almeria

Cyclists shelter from the wind in the 2016 Clasica Almeria

Teams then took refuge to shelter from the wind, prompting another meeting and the race was changed to a criterium format of six laps of the finish circuit over just 21km.

“The crosswinds were so strong that you could make your bike become a sail and be expelled to the ditch if you didn’t ride strong or remained still,” Movistar sports director José Luis Arrieta said in a team statement.

“I even had to save some riders from the wind with the team car to avoid them crashing, before it was decided to go back.”

Australian Leigh Howard took his first victory for his new team IAM Cycling, having moved from Orica-GreenEdge over the winter. Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) placed second, with Howard’s lead-out man Aleksejs Saramotins coming home for third as the peloton had split behind them.

Riders then came across the finish line in small groups, and only 76 riders finished. Mark Cavendish won the race last season, but was absent this year – instead he was helping out a member of the public with a puncture in London.

Last week, high winds caused organisers to abandon the Volta a La Marina in Benidorm as several riders were blown over.

Strong winds blow on the 2016 Clasica Almeria

Strong winds cause palm trees to bow over in the Clasica de Almeria

Leigh Howard wins the 2016 Clasica Almeria

Leigh Howard wins from a three-man lead group as the peloton split

Leigh Howard wins the 2016 Clasica Almeria

Leigh Howard tops the podium at the 2016 Clasica Almeria