The Middle East heat blanketing the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Doha is “too much,” says under-23 Belgian rider Nathan Van Hooydonck.
Van Hooydonck had not thought it would be such a factor, but he quickly changed his mind after his race on Friday. The under-23 men raced 166 kilometres, nearly 100 kilometres shy of the main event. The elite men face 257.5 kilometres in the desert heat on Sunday.
“It was just too hot,” the 21-year-old told the Belga news agency. “After the race ended, it was still 36 degrees. That’s way too hot. On the road, it surely must have been around 40 degrees. That’s too much.”
Norwegian Kristoffer Halvorsen won the race on Thursday around the Pearl Island built along Doha’s Corniche. Brit Jon Dibben placed ninth in the sprint.
Van Hooydonck finished 7-32 minutes later in 131st place. Enzo Wouters hoped to lead the Belgian team in the sprint but the team thinks that he “over-heated.” Afterwards, he had to go by ambulance to be checked at the medical centre.
“Before the start, UCI representatives asked us whether the race should be shortened,” added Van Hooydonck. “That’s just ridiculous. You can’t come and ask us that just before the start. It is up to them, it’s their job to make that decision.
“We replied that it was certainly not cold. But to emphatically say that the course had to be shortened, I felt that was a step too far. It is not for us to make that decision. And there are not only the Belgians racing, there happened to other riders signing the starting sheet today. Though, ask me the question again after the race and my answer is clear: it was just too hot.”
It is the first time the governing body has staged the Worlds in the Middle East. Since it was awarded to Doha in 2012, followers have raised the heat issue.
Last week, the UCI issued a protocol that a panel would follow each morning to determine if the races needed to be shortened due to the Persian Gulf heat this time of the year.
Already after the team time trials on opening day Sunday, riders voiced their concerns. “The heat in Qatar is extreme,” said Rabo-Liv’s Roxane Knetemann. “You’d expect organisers and the UCI to have some knowledge about cycling.”
The UCI said that it could count out the early 150-kilometre desert section north of town and limit the men’s race to 106.4 kilometres on the Pearl. Eddy Merckx, who co-organises the Tour of Qatar and helped bring the Worlds to the peninsula, said that it will not happen.
“Well, in California they raced in 40-plus degrees and I think that was also the case at the Vuelta a España,” said the Belgian cycling great. “There won’t be the need [to shorten the race]. The course will stay the same.”