HARROGATE, Great Britain (VN) – Inclement autumn weather is par for the course in northern England, but world championship officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of torrential downpours and deep puddles that marred time trial racing Tuesday in dramatic fashion.
Skies were overcast Wednesday ahead of the elite men’s individual time trial race, and the threat of further monsoon rain seems to have passed, so organizers and athletes alike breathed a sigh of relief. At least for now.
Everyone is hoping not to see a repeat of Tuesday’s conditions that saw riders in the U23 men’s time trial crash heavily in deep puddles in images that went viral.
“All of a sudden I was in a big pool of water,” Denmark’s Johan Price-Pejtersen told Cycling Pro Net,who was involved in one of the worst crashes in a deep puddle. “It was a bit extreme, but in the end, the guy who started last, he won. My right side was hurt a bit and my foot doesn’t feel very good. I was unable to put down power after the crash.”
Horrible race conditions raised questions that the U23 race should have been neutralized or at least have had the most dangerous portions signaled with race marshals. Despite a delay, weather improved by the time Chloé Dygert Owen stormed to the elite women’s title later Tuesday afternoon, allowing athletes to compete in safer conditions. Crews scrambled to clear away as much water as possible before the women started.
“It’s good that they managed to take away the swimming pools, and a shout out to the people who did that for us,” said the defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, the bronze medalist. “It didn’t bother us. We’re used to riding in the rain. The circumstances with the rain were the same for everyone, so no excuses.”
The worst is far from over however, and rains are forecasted for the remainder of worlds week. The mercury is also steadily dropping through the week, with Sunday’s elite men’s road race facing steady showers and highs hovering around 14C.
The racers won’t be the only ones concerned, and the UCI will also be keeping their eye on the gloomy forecasts. With Friday’s U23 men’s road race initially scheduled to finish under darkening skies at 7pm, the governing body decided to shorten the race for safety reasons. The UCI moved up the start time by 10 minutes and removed one lap on the Harrogate circuit to assure riders finish with adequate visibility.
Everyone wants to avoid a repeat of what the U23 men’s time trialists contended with Tuesday. Racers confronted puddles sometimes deeper than their deep-section rims. Riders were left with a choice of taking carbon fiber wheels through the floods and whatever potholes lay beneath them, or having to take equally-risky last-minute changes of line from a carefully scouted route.
The women’s race was postponed by 40 minutes, and the start intervals between riders condensed so that they would finish in the daylight. Those due to start early suddenly found their calibrated, minute-by-minute preparation schedules thrown into out the door. British rider Hayley Simmonds only heard of the changes just as she closed out her warm up, “At that point, I’d had my caffeine and done my efforts. I’ve never been in that situation before. I had no idea what to do, to be brutally honest.”
The delayed start allowed organizers to sweep and drain the roads to remove the worst of the puddles as the rain lessened. Newly crowned world champion Dygert Owen was similarly unfazed by the conditions.
“I live in Washington state right now and it rains all the time there and so I go pretty well in the rain,” Dygert Owen said. “I’m originally from Indiana and its really windy there, so wind and rain, it’s fine.”
The inclement weather adds an extra dimension to the physical challenge for athletes ahead of what’s expected to be explosive racing in this weekend’s road races. The technical, narrow, hilly roads that some have already deemed as dangerous and as one of the most challenging world’s route in years will prove even more demanding.
You can imagine the hard men of Belgium and the Netherlands will relish the prospect of some Flandrien weather coming to Harrogate. Others most certainly will not. Either way, it appears a repeat of Tuesday’s torrential rains are not in the cards.