Chaos at Catalunya: Nearly 40 abandon, but officials might let them start Thursday

Officials may allow drop-outs to start Thursday after harrowing day

Nearly 40 riders abandoned the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in apocalyptic race conditions during Wednesday’s weather-reduced third stage.

Rain, snow, ice and wind forced race organizers to reduce the 210km queen stage by 50km, eliminating the final two climbs, including the hors categorie summit finale that was covered in an ever-thickening blanket of snow.

In all, 39 riders pulled out. Among those abandoning were Paris-Nice champion Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte (Sky), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nisan), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who crashed Tuesday, did not start.

“I already wasn’t feeling 100 percent when the race started,” van Garderen said on the BMC Racing website. “When there’s extreme conditions like that, I wasn’t going to get any better.”

There was still some conjecture that riders who abandoned Wednesday would be allowed to take the start Thursday.

“We’re in the dark as to whether they could start tomorrow. It’s a shame for us and everyone else that the conditions were such that they had to abandon the queen stage,” said Sky sport director Sean Yates. “The people who run the ski station said ‘you can’t come any further’ as it was too dangerous.”

With a 12-man breakaway eight minutes up the road, a spur-of-moment decision removed the final two climbs and left the race in the total chaos.

Janez Brajkovic (Astana) “won” the stage, but said it was more a race of survival than anything else.

“That was the hardest day of my life,” Brajkovic told the Spanish wire service EFE. “From the second climb, it was a matter of just surviving. There was definitely very cold, with very bad weather. If we had done all the stage, there’s no way we could have finished.”

Race officials later ruled that the stage result would not count in the overall classification. That meant that overnight leader Michael Albasini (GreenEdge), a sprinter who dashed to victory in the opening two stages, remained the race leader.

Rain, whipping winds and near-freezing temperatures created hellish racing conditions. With weather conditions worsening, including snow as the road turned upward, riders were dropping out in droves.

Teams and riders complained that no one had any idea what was going on. The news crackled over the course radio that the finish line would be reset in a village about 50km before the planned finish line.

That threw everything into pandemonium and no one even knew where the finish line was.

RadioShack-Nissan rider Thomas Rohregger was ing the day’s main breakaway when the announcement came that the race would be shortened.

“There wasn’t even a finish line set up,” Rohregger said on the team’s web page. “When we saw the UCI officials on the side of the road we started to sprint. It all makes this look like a low level amateur race. It’s such a pity after such a hard day.”

RadioShack-Nissan sport director José Azevedo said he’s never seen anything like it and expressed his exasperation with how the peloton handled an early-race pileup.

“What a chaotic day. When they came on race radio and told us where the finish would be, it was too late to catch the breakaway. It’s not really fair,” Azevedo said on the team’s website.

“What’s happening with cycling?” he continued. “After only 5km of racing there was a massive crash. Jakob (Fuglsang) was part of the crash. Normally the peloton would wait for everyone to get back on their bikes. Not anymore. There was no waiting. It’s a war out there every day and there is no solidarity. It’s unbelievable.”