Fires imperil stage 1 at Tour Down Under

Rerouting the stage would be impossible, and it would have to be canceled

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Raging wildfires could force organizers to cancel Tuesday’s opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under.

TDU race director Mike Turtur said organizers would decide Monday evening at 5 p.m. local time after conferring with public safety officials.

“It’s a serious situation, and will be monitored until the day before the race, with a decision from the advice from the appropriate authorities,” Turtur said Saturday. “If it’s a no-go zone for the Barossa, then it’s a no-go zone. It’s as simple as that.”

The 2014 Tour Down Under is scheduled to start Tuesday with a 135km stage around the vineyards of the Barossa Valley in the hills northeast of Adelaide. The route includes a short but steep climb at Menglers Hill, about 14km from the finish line in Angaston.

Overnight Friday, crews were battling flames near Angaston, where fires have consumed five houses and caused other damage.

“Any activity in the region that is deemed as a danger to the public, then obviously you cannot ask people to go there,” Turtur said. “It would be crazy to do that. We’ll take advice from the South Australia police and the Country Fire Service, and make a decision.”

Turtur said the complicated logistics involved in road closures would make it impossible to route the stage away from dangerous areas. If it’s deemed too dangerous, the stage would simply have to be canceled.

Record heat, including five straight days of more than 40C around the Adelaide area, have provoked a string of wildfires in the South Australia region. Buffeting winds of up to 70kph have only made matters worse.

Temperatures, however, dropped dramatically overnight, dipping from 43C on Friday to a more comfortable 28C by Saturday afternoon.

Heavy winds damaged the race’s expo area in central Adelaide.

“It’s the wind that is the problem. We saw last night that we lost half of the expo area after the poor guys had erected everything getting ready, then in the space of half an hour, it is destroyed,” Turtur said. “I know the heat has backed off, but it’s the wind that’s the problem.”

Turtur expressed relief that temperatures have cooled following several extreme days that prompted cancellation of tennis matches at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Turtur pointed out that there are no UCI rules or guidelines outlining heat.