Heat and wind are taking their toll on cycling’s first big event of the 2019 season, the Tour Down Under in Australia.
Strong furnace-like winds in South Australia forced the organiser to slash the kilometres in the first two days. It cut the first day’s closing circuit to bring the distance down to 129km. Stage one starts Tuesday morning or late this evening European time.
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“The reason for this decision is the collective opinion of all representatives taking into consideration that the extreme weather conditions may result in a major peloton break-up which would be problematic on the finishing circuit,” said race director Mike Turtur in a press release.
“We consulted with rider representative Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), Team Director representative Matthew White (Mitchelton-Scott) and with our chief commissaire, and all parties have agreed this is the sensible approach.”
The organiser planned for stage one to travel from 132.4km from North Adelaide to Port Adelaide. Without the closing 3.4km circuit, the race will cover 129km to reach the Gulf St Vincent.
It slashed 26.9km from stage two. The stage from Norwood to Angaston now runs 122.1km instead of the planned 149km.
The weather in South Australia often plays its part in the Tour Down Under. Riders specifically arrive early to prepare for their upcoming seasons and for the extreme heat that grips this part of the world in its summer months. The mercury in January regularly climbs into the 40s.
The forecast shows sun and 37°C on Monday and sun and 38°C on Tuesday. The temperatures should drop in the week as riders face the six-day race.
The organiser is able to refer to the Extreme Weather Protocol that the UCI governing body implemented in 2015.
Further modifications could happen, especially in the opening stages.
“It’s fair enough to say there will be a modification of a stage,” Turtur explained to the Sydney Morning Herald. “Everyone needs to understand – if there was a catastrophic rating for any region, then the race cannot enter that region.
“We need to also bear that in mind, but that will be considered when and if that happens – it’s one of those things we can’t control. But certainly we have all the necessary protocols in place to deal with it.”
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), overall winner in 2017, said heat could affect the overall outcome of the race, especially in the rolling stage to Uraidla on Thursday.
“It just depends how it’s ridden … it’s a pretty tricky, hard stage,” Porte said. “If it’s a hot day and the peloton doesn’t feel like riding hard, then it could also mean nothing.”