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Riders: Shortening TDU stage right call due to heat

Tuesday's Tour Down Under opening stage was shortened by 26km because of temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — With road temperatures hot enough to fry an egg, riders agreed that race organizers made the right call Tuesday to shorten the opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under.

When thermometers broiled north of 100 degrees for the opening day of the WorldTour, it was an easy decision to lop off the last of three 26km finishing circuits of the hilly course that ended in a bunch sprint.

Riders across the peloton praised the ruling.

“I think it was brilliant that race organizers respected the riders,” BMC Racing’s Richie Porte said. “I think that was the hottest day I’ve ever had on the bike. I’ve never raced in anything like that. It was hot even in the shade.”

Riders were exasperated Tuesday as a sudden blast of heat engulfed Adelaide for the first major race of 2017. Temperatures hit 98 degrees at the start and quickly climbed to 107 degrees in the first hour of racing. Lotto – Soudal rider Lars Bak said his bike computer peaked out at 47.5 degrees Celsius, which translates to 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s probably the hottest road race I’ve ever done,” Lotto’s Adam Hansen said. “When we were going slow, you could already feel the heat, but when we were going fast or making a hard effort, it was really too much. A lot of guys said they couldn’t have finished [the full distance].”

Officials employed the “extreme-weather protocol” that was introduced in 2015 following a string of high-profile weather incidents that provoked the ire of the peloton. Tuesday’s events unfolded in a textbook execution of how the rules should be applied.

Anticipating high temperatures, TDU race director Mike Turtur huddled with rider’s rep Hansen and UCI commissaire Alexander Donike before the start of the stage. They agreed that everyone would monitor the situation, and if it got too hot, they would shorten the stage.

It didn’t take long. With the heat becoming unbearable, only one rider — Astana’s Laurens de Vreese — dared to attack. The pace was languid at best, with the peloton puttering along 30 minutes slower than the expected finishing time.

“We had a meeting before the race, and it was my job to speak to the riders during the stage. I had quite a few riders speaking to me during the stage,” Hansen said. “It’s a good sign [the final lap was neutralized] because in the end, if we had raced the extra lap, we would have had the same result anyway.”

About 50km into the race, Hansen pulled up alongside the UCI commissaire’s car and everyone quickly reached a consensus.

The finishing circuit made for an easy decision. Point-to-point racing is more difficult to alter the finish line, but the TDU officials simply eliminated one of the finishing loops.

“The safety and welfare of the riders, spectators and everyone involved with the race is always our primary concern,” Turtur said. “We consulted with rider representative Hansen and Donike, and both agreed it would be sensible to shorten the stage distance.”

It was the first time in the Tour Down Under’s 19-year history that a stage was shortened due to excessive temperatures. There have been hotter days in TDU history, but the extreme-weather protocol was not yet on the books.

The heat should break, as a cold front is expected to roll through South Australia. Forecasters are calling for cooling temperatures for Wednesday’s climbing stage to Paracomb, with mild weather throughout the week before peaking again for Sunday’s finale. It is summer, after all.

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