HATTA, UAE (VN) — Riders milled about in sweatsuits and sneakers and cracked jokes about going sailing. Most of Team Sky suited up, and a few riders from other teams joined in, but the peloton never seriously considered racing. The desert storm put an end to the fourth stage of the Dubai Tour before it had a chance to start.
The stage was cancelled under the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol following a meeting in Hatta between the race organizers, UCI commissaires panel, and representatives from the teams.
“I think I can speak for all the riders when I say that I am happy with the cancellation of the stage because the weather is really really dangerous,” said race leader Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
The cancellation wasn’t for lack of effort. Race organizers initially shortened stage 4 on Thursday evening after high winds and blowing sand battered the peloton in stage 3. They moved the start to the mountains of Hatta, cutting out a long trek across the same desert that battered the peloton Thursday, and set up a 109km route using two laps of a 51km course. Riders, staff, and press were shuttled out to Hatta for a noon start. But in the end, winds over 30mph, and gusting to near 50, proved too heavy even for the more protected route.
“We thought the chances of it going ahead were slim, but it showed willingness from all the teams, all the riders, all the organization that they wanted the race to go ahead,” Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) said from the altered start line in Hatta. “It wasn’t like we wanted a day off, we’ve all made the five-hour trip now to try to make it happen.”
The day appeared to be a positive test of the UCI’s extreme weather protocol, which allows race organizers to alter or cancel a race in case of unsafe weather conditions, and of the rider’s ability to speak as a unified voice. However, while the end result fell in the rider’s interest, the lack of a formal channel made getting to that decision a bit more complicated. There was no formal rider representative from the CPA rider’s union in Dubai, and therefore no single point of contact for the race organizer and UCI.
“The UCI chief commissaire came to us and the directeur sportifs for not having a spokesman before the race that they can go up to and talk to and I take that, it’s the CPA’s fault,” said Bernard Eisel (Dimension Data). “But it’s right, in every race there should be a representative; one sports director for all the teams and one rider. But still they invited a few of the riders now and all the sports directors and so I’m happy.”
It certainly helped that the weather was simply so bad that there was very little disagreement regarding canceling the stage. “There’s sometimes a difference of opinion between the race organizers, teams, and riders but this time we the organizers were the first to understand that the conditions were far too difficult to race,” said Mauro Vegni, head of race organizer RCS.
Eisel and John Degenkolb took the lead in bringing rider’s concerns to the powers-that-be, and even suggested that the stage be turned into a short time trial finishing atop the Hatta Dam finish. Race organizers turned down that concept, noting that teams arrived expecting a string of sprint stages, and changing the format of the race without notice simply wouldn’t be fair.
“It’s not possible to have a radically different stage because it alters the nature of the race,” Vegni said. “A time trial would penalize the teams who came here with a team selected for the sprints. It just wouldn’t be fair for everyone.”
With the race’s desert version of a queen stage gone, and only one sprint stage remaining, the chances of Kittel relinquishing his 8 second lead over LottoNL – Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen are slim. Saturday’s final stage should see better weather, and much lighter winds, as the Dubai Tour races toward the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Listen to our conversation about this and the UCI’s Extreme Weather protocol on the VeloNews podcast: