DOHA, Qatar (VN) — It’s hot, but not so terribly warm that the men’s road race will be reduced to little more than a criterium.
With forecasted temperatures in the low 90s F, UCI president Brian Cookson said Sunday’s men’s road race should be completed at its full, 257km distance.
“We have a contingency plan in place, but at this moment, it doesn’t seem likely it will be needed,” Cookson said Saturday. “So the full distance will be raced.”
Leading up to the first worlds to be held in the Middle East, officials created a backup plan to reduce the men’s road race by 150km if temperatures were deemed so extreme they would present a threat to the health of the riders. A team of five doctors has been monitoring the heat all week, and agreed that despite warm, summer-like temperatures, the heat did not represent a risk to cyclists’ health.
“The heat in this championships should not be an issue,” said Dr. Olaf Schumacher. “We are monitoring the temperatures, and so far, we have not reached an excessive level.”
There have been a few incidents of riders collapsing from heat and dehydration, but those were relatively minor cases of dehydration and exposure, and were quickly treated by doctors. A Norwegian junior rider collapsed during Friday’s race, and was taken to a local hospital where he was treated with an IV to rehydrate him, before returning to the team hotel without further incident.
Heat and a dearth of fans have prompted indignation from many fans and riders. Tony Martin, winner of the men’s time trial race, criticized the UCI for bringing worlds to Qatar solely for financial reasons. Cookson confirmed the bidding price was 10 million Swiss francs (about $11 million).
On Saturday, Cookson defended the Doha world championships under a wave criticism that cycling’s prestigious one-day race shouldn’t be held in a venue where there are almost no fans and little local interest in the event.
“It is what it is,” Cookson said. “The decision to come here was four years ago, and it has been a challenge. While it is not an immediately popular sport here, it’s been a very high level of organization, and we can expect a good crowd on Sunday.”
Cookson pointed out there is legitimate sponsor interest in the region, not only for hosting events, such as races in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Qatar, but also to back teams, with the new Bahrain squad.
“I think it’s fair to say this is a part of the world where interest is growing,” he said. “It is still relatively small, in terms of spectators, but we are here, and they’re doing a good job for us. This is a start, but I don’t think we’ll be coming to the Gulf for the worlds every two or three years.”
Cookson also highlighted that the first world championship hosts that he’s designated since being elected UCI president three years ago were all in Europe — in Bergen, Norway next year, Innsbruck, Austria in 2018, and Yorkshire, England in 2019 — something, he added, that “should make it is easier for fans to see the racing.”
TUE procedures tightened
Cookson also reminded journalists that procedures to issue TUEs (therapeutic use-exemptions) have been strengthened since 2014.
A brewing scandal in Great Britain over leaked TUEs that Bradley Wiggins used ahead of key races when he was at Team Sky has put the practice under the microscope.
Cookson said new rules require a panel of three doctors to have unanimous agreement before allowing a rider to use a product under a TUE, something he claims is even more strict than existing World Anti-Doping Agency rules.
“We now have a very robust system in place for TUEs,” Cookson said. “In those years [during the Wiggins’ era], though there was a committee in place, it had become the authorization of just one person [former UCI medical staff Dr. Zorzoli], and that was perhaps as not as rigid as might be desired. We have tightened that system up.”
Cookson also admitted the UCI has unsuccessfully lobbied to have such products as Tramadol added to the WADA banned list, but said, “we are bound to the WADA code, and it’s difficult to impose higher standards on that issue.”