After a snow storm at Tirreno and unbearable heat in Oman, should protocols be put in place to stop races in extreme weather conditions?
After Sunday’s finish at the Monte Terminillo’s ski resort, more attention was given to a possible ‘extreme weather protocol’ that could be applied to cycling when conditions take a turn for the worse. The fifth stage of Tirreno finished at 1675 metres, where snow fell heavily and temperatures dipped to -2C°.
Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacked with five kilometres left in the 16.1km climb. With three kilometres to go, snow began to fall. It fell so heavily it covered the road at the top, but not enough to prevent Quintana from taking his hands off his handlebars to celebrate his win.
His solo win gave him the overall lead and victory two days later, and the 25-year-old later said that the weather conditions made his epic ride to the summit extra special.
“When I remember that day, the hair stands up on the back of my neck,” Quintana said. “It was a spectacular win, in enchanting surroundings.
“To beat those rivals, on a day like that, in the cold, with a nervous, twitchy peloton, and then to finish on the Terminillo in the snow, in conditions that made for wonderful photographs, was special, even if I have to say that we suffered a lot that day.”
Others did not agree. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) told Cyclingnews that organiser RCS Sport knew it was going to snow and could have moved the finish lower down the climb.
“In Italy, they call it ‘ciclismo storico’ but I’m not interested in making history or doing what Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali did in the forties and fifties,” Cancellara said. “I like to be part of spectacular racing but there have to be certain limits.”
Quintana took another and bigger win last year under similar circumstances at the Giro d’Italia.
Heavy snow mid-way up the Stelvio Pass at 2758 metres convinced race director Mauro Vegni to escort the different groups down the backside with race motorbikes. When Quintana shot clear in a group with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), though, questions were raised.
Other riders and team managers said Quintana and company failed to heed Vegni’s announcement and gained an unfair advantage.
Quintana took two minutes on the descent and 4-14 minutes by the finish in Val Martello, enough to take the leader’s pink jersey which he kept until the end a week later in Trieste.
Organiser RCS Sport had its share of other problems. It modified the Galibier and Tre Cime di Lavaredo stages, and completely cancelled the Val Martello stage due to snow in the 2013 Giro.
In the 2013 Milano-Sanremo, it had to stop the riders mid-way and restart them later due to a freak snowstorm on the roads leading to and up the Turchino Pass.
Organiser Eddy Merckx faced a completely different whether situation last month at the Tour of Oman. Winds and a subsequent sand storm forced him to move the start of stage five.
However, high 38°C temperatures and braking on a descent in the neutral section helped cause the tyres to explode for several of team Bardiani’s cyclists.
The riders stopped and protested for their safety. Merckx and the local organiser argued, but gave in and cancelled the stage.
“It’s life threatening when you’re going 90 kilometres an hour and the tyre explodes,” Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step) said of that stage. “Guys were scared in the neutralised section when we weren’t riding hard. We are all fathers and sons, we are not here to fight a war.”
In mid-February, before the Terminillo and Oman incidents, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced it was working with stakeholders on an extreme weather protocol that organisers could apply if needed.
Tomorrow, they will meet on the subject in Milan. Establishing such a set of rules, however, could be complicated in a sport that has races worldwide and in all seasons.
“I’m rather critical of the idea,” Vegni said. “It’s very difficult to find parameters that fit with all the seasons and I’m not sure if it’s right to put cycling within the parameters.
“What do we do? Start a Tour de France stage at 38°C, stop the stage when the temperature goes to 41°C and then start again at 38°C?
“If we don’t want to damage cycling and drive people away from the sport, we’ve got to use common sense. If we want to limit everything by numbers, we’ll damage our sport.”