The first edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour began under a blanket of heat today that zapped the power of those professional stars who came to race.
Italian Andrea Guardini won the first stage, which the organiser had to shorten because of the slow pace through the oven-like temperatures ranging from 40 to 45°C.
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“This was the hottest day of my career, and for most of the others riders,” Guardini said.
“We started the day in the desert at 53°C. I’d only ever seen 50° before when I was training in Adelaide, Australia. I thought about it, but I knew that the others were suffering too.”
The pace averaged a relatively slow 34.9 kilometres an hour in the first two hours. Many of the 103 riders who lined up for the first edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour felt they could not push harder.
“It was impossible, it went too far,” Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step) said.
“It’s just impossible to race. On the first small climbs, my heart rate was 170 to 180, so was everybody else’s, and without really pushing.
“You can ride in these conditions but you can’t race. The guys in the front just fell back one by one.”
Boonen raced in the Tour of Oman this year, where he pushed the organiser to cancel a stage because of extreme heat.
Organiser RCS Sport’s cycling director, Mauro Vegni knew that Boonen and others were pushing through a wall of heat to reach the finish in Madinat Zayed and made a call mid-race to cut the final circuit.
Vegni shortened the race by 14.5 kilometres, to 159.9, because the riders were suffering and the race was going to finish outside the live television window provided.
“We never asked them to go faster out there,” Vegni explained.
“The conditions worsened over the last week, it is unusually high for this time of year. We asked the riders to think about their health. We analysed it, with the heat, the setting sun and TV, and we re-evaluated.”
Vegni said that he might have to make a similar call for the next stages with forecasts showing continued high temperatures.
The Abu Dhabi Tour continues with a flat stage tomorrow near the petroleum rich city, but on Saturday, it climbs 11 kilometres to the Jebel Hafeet summit finish.
“Who can go full-gas on Friday on the mountain?” Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) said after a shower.
“It’s not possible in these temperatures.”
The organiser and cyclists walk a delicate line because at stake is the success of a new race in the Middle East. With sponsorship money for races drying up in cycling’s heartland of Europe, RCS Sport is banking on new partners overseas.
“This is an opportunity for cycling, money, new sponsors, the UCI gala on Sunday,” Vegni said.
“If some of the boys understood, which I think they did, then that’s good. We have to work together.”