Yesterday, women and men raced the team time trial to open the worlds. The women teams, off first, rode in 37-degree heat. Rabo-Liv’s Roxane Knetemann said that it was like “riding in a sauna” and said that organiser and governing body, the UCI, “did not think this through.”
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Merckx, who ruled cycling in the 1960s and 1970s before it ever went to the Middle East, said that it is much ado about nothing.
“Well, in California they raced in 40-plus degrees and I think that was also the case at the Vuelta a España,” the Belgian told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
“Here it’s less than 40 degrees. The temperature is slightly lowering from now through Sunday and Qatar is a peninsula, so there’s always wind. No, we are not talking about impossible conditions.”
Merckx knows the peninsula well. Since 2002, he and Dirk De Pauw organised the successful Tour of Qatar.
Extreme weather, however, has been a hot topic over the last three years with snow affecting races from Ghent-Wevelgem to the Giro d’Italia, and extreme heat playing its role in the Tour of Oman, a race Merckx helped organize since 2010. This year, with a new UCI protocol in place, organisers cut stages in Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.
So concerned about the heat, the UCI already issued a Qatar protocol that appointed a team to examine the conditions daily. It said that if the heat was too much in the sandy barren plains then it would cut 150-kilometre out and back section from the men’s road race. It would be reduced to the seven 15.2-kilometre finishing circuits, or 106.4 kilometres for the world title race.
“There won’t be the need for it,” said Merckx, who won the worlds in 1967, 1971 and 1974. “The course will stay the same.”
Reducing the race from 257.5 to 106.4 kilometres would make it the shortest worlds in UCI’s history, since it first started hosting the worlds in 1927 when Alfredo Binda won.