The 172km stage from Dubai was meant to finish on the climb to Hatta Dam. Strong wind was expected and the stage was shortened the night before from to 109km and modified to two laps of a circuit near Hatta, in the hope that skipping the exposed desert would avoid the worst of the weather.
Yet on arrival at the new stage start on Thursday morning the wind gusts were so strong that despite the team’s intention to race, many of the riders didn’t change into their race kit and stayed sheltered in team cars to avoid the gales and blowing sand. As the stage was due to start, organisers confirmed the UCI’s extreme weather protocol had been enforced.
“Nobody wanted to go out there and race. It’s definitely the right decision,” said Dimension Data’s Bernie Eisel. “The organiser made a big effort to make the race happen it’s just weather you can’t predict.”
Race leader Marcel Kittel, sporting a bandage above his left eye after an incident with Astana rider Andriy Grivko on stage three, agreed the weather was “very extreme” and “really dangerous” to race.
In fact the wind was so strong it brought an abrupt end to the German’s press conference on top of the dam, after almost blowing down the tent he was sat under.
“I think everyone can see that it’s very, very windy today and it’s very extreme even in this area here,” Kittel said.
“I think I can speak for all the riders when I say that I’m happy with the decision that the organisation took because the weather is really, really dangerous.”
Watch: High winds force the cancellation of stage four of the Dubai Tour
Mauro Vengi, RCS head of race organisation, stressed the conditions were just too dangerous. “Weather forecasts expected another increase in the strength of the wind in the afternoon, with a wind at 35 knots, which is around 65kmh. Gusts were also likely and that would have been far too risky for the riders, it could have caused a lot of crashes.
“We hoped the hills would have protected the race and that the rocky landscape meant there wouldn’t be a sand storm. However the wind blew down the valleys and was so strong that it was moving the cars on the way here.”
Eisel is one of the CPA’s representatives in the peloton – an independent union for riders. The Austrian and stage three winner John Degenkolb were among those who were invited into a meeting with the race organisers and a directeur sportif from every team, to make the final decision on the stage.
During that discussion, he and Degenkolb proposed an alternative of racing a short time trial instead, however, it wasn’t allowed under UCI rules.
“It’s not possible to have a radically different stage because it alters the nature of the race. A time trial would penalise the teams who came here with a team selected for the sprints. It just wouldn’t be fair for everyone,” Vengi said.
Stage four was the only stage of the five-day race that ended on a hill, and was predicted to be a key day in deciding the overall winner. Mark Cavendish, who is still chasing a stage victory in the race, said the decision to cancel the stage was “disappointing” but the right decision considering rider safety was at risk.
“They’ve made a good decision to protect the riders so I take my hat off to that – we thought the chances of it going ahead were slim,” the Manxman said.
“At least it shows willing from all the teams, all the riders, for the race to go ahead. It’s not like we wanted a day off – we made the five-hour trip to try and make it happen.”