Today’s Tour of Oman stage, scheduled to be 151.5 kilometres from Al Sawadi Beach to the country’s Ministry of Housing was shortened, shortened again and then entirely neutralised because of safety concerns.
A sandstorm at the start blew over race advertising boards and crowd control barriers. Winds reached an estimated 70km/h.
Race organisers Paumer – co-run by Eddy Merckx – and ASO, along with team managers, made the decision to shorten the race to 95 kilometres, taking in the planned three laps of a finishing circuit.
However, upon arrival there, the sandstorm had cleared to leave temperatures above 40°C. In the opening kilometres of racing, many punctured because of the warm tarmac.
Riders eventually stopped racing, taking shelter under a bridge, and the decision was made to neutralise the stage. Some claimed that organisers threatened that further editions of Oman would not take place if the stage did not go ahead as planned.
“It was the riders’ decision. If we didn’t stand up for ourselves, the stage would have gone on,” said Etixx-QuickStep’s Tom Boonen.
“Temperatures reached 50 degrees on the neutralised descent. It’s good that we stood up for ourselves, we are fathers and sons. This is about people’s lives and our health. This could be an important day for cycling. I think it’s time that the UCI sets up rules for extreme weather. We’re probably the only sport that doesn’t have this.”
Fabian Cancellara (Trek) echoed the sentiments: “It was for the security of the riders. It is nothing against the organisers, but it is impossible to descend at 85kph when the temperature is 47 degrees. The tyres were boiling and some of the guys could take them off with their hands and you usually can’t do that.”
However, BMC’s Tejay van Garderen, who sits second overall, said he was disappointed with the decision not to race. “From what I saw, it [the tyre problems] were all from the same team [said to be Bardiani-CSF].
“So it wasn’t that the conditions were dangerous. I think it was their equipment that was inferior. I think we would have been fine to race.”
A statement from the UCI read: “The UCI considers the safety of riders as an absolute priority and is therefore taking this issue very seriously. We are currently working with key stakeholders to agree protocols to be adopted if a race is affected by extremes of temperature, precipitation etc. We intend that this be approved very quickly as we are conscious of the need for clear guidelines for organisers, teams and riders on this issue.”
This is not the first controversy in the race’s six-year history. The first ever stage of the race in 2010 was moved to an evening start time, before a laser and firework show along the city’s corniche delayed it even further. With only streetlights illuminating the course, riders neutralised all but the last two laps of the crit because of safety concerns.
The following year, the opening stage was delayed as riders’ bikes did not turn up in time for the start, while in 2012, a two-hour boat transfer to the start of stage two in Sur proved extremely unpopular.
Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) retains the overall lead going into Sunday’s final stage.
Overall classification after stage five
1. Rafael Valls (Spa) Lampre-Merida
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC at 9 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 19 secs
4. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo at 32 secs
5. Jacques Janse van Rensburg (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka at 1-04
6. Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka at 1-08
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 1-10
8. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing at 1-15
9. Julian Arredondo (Col) Trek Factory Racing at 1-25
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18 at 1-36