Roundtable: Too windy for bike racing?

Two major races were affected by windy conditions, Dubai and Valenciana. Did the organizers make the right call? Are pro riders getting soft?

The winds of change are a blowin’ — now more than ever, pro cycling races are being cancelled or truncated due to extreme weather. In the last week, wind cancelled the Dubai Tour’s stage 4 to Hatta Dam and led organizers to shorten Volta a Valenciana’s final stage in Spain. Are the riders just getting soft? Or is the sport finally moving toward a level of professionalism that actually prioritizes safety? Time to roundtable!

The uptick in cancelled or shortened races due to extreme weather is a sign of _______.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: It’s probably a sign of better meteorological science. We can also blame Twitter too, for giving everyone a forum to complain about stuff: “It’s too windy to race!” “That race I wanted to watch got cancelled!” “VeloNews wrote such a stupid opinion piece about that cancelled race!” Or maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing the influential track cycling lobby flex its muscles with a bit of backroom dealing to convince riders and fans that the only way to reliably run a race is to do it indoors on a velodrome. But in all seriousness, a lot of this can be chalked up to more influential and purposeful rider organizations, such as the CPA and ANAPRC — riders’ unions, essentially.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: OK, I really really want to say it’s because the riders are getting soft, but that’s not the answer. I think it’s more a sign that race organizers of smaller events are becoming scared of rider protests and/or getting on the bad side of the sport’s biggest teams and star athletes. Yep, the organizers are soft! I know that ASO shortened the Mont Ventoux stage last year, but I can’t imagine them canceling an entire stage due to wind anytime soon. The Tour of Dubai and Valenciana are not the Tour de France. To a certain degree, they are dependent on the stars showing up for publicity, fanfare, etc. If RCS pisses off Marcel Kittel, maybe he doesn’t show up to Dubai next year. If they piss off Quick-Step, then maybe Quick-Step brings its entire “B” team next year. Organizers do not want that.

Was it the right move to cancel Dubai Tour stage 4 and shorten Valenciana stage 5?

SP: We didn’t lose a whole lot with a shorter Valenciana stage because the GC was essentially decided, and the day was meant for the sprinters anyway. It’s too bad the Dubai Tour couldn’t include the only climb in the route (Hatta Dam), but did you see the crazy videos of the wind that week? Marcel Kittel was bound to get punched again.

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FD: Regarding Hatta Dam, I can understand the decision. Caley Fretz, who was on the scene, just informed me that it wasn’t necessarily the wind that caused the cancellation, but rather the blowing sand that did the trick. He described a scene that sounded straight of the film, “The Mummy.” In my mind, this constitutes an Act of God (or mummy)-type scenario, so sure, cancel the day. You can’t really pilot a bicycle if your eyeballs have been sandblasted from your skull.

I’m not so sure about Valenciana.

OK, time to pilot this opinion right off a cliff. Here’s the thing: I am totally on board with canceling stages due to dangerously cold conditions, huge snowfall, and lighting. But wind is a natural element that factors heavily into the tactics and strategies of the race. Gusting wind often determines who wins and who loses, especially on flat stages. Learning to navigate wind — yep, even terrible gusting wind — is a skill that riders should learn. Riding into high winds and gusty winds totally sucks, but hey, cycling is a sport that’s about enduring sucky conditions, right? Canceling a stage due to winds is kind of like canceling a climb because it’s too hard. OK Internet, hate me.

In a CyclingNews story on Sunday, Allan Peiper said, “”You get the first hint of rain in Belgium and the riders are traveling to Spain to train. So the mentality has changed.” Is he basically calling modern cyclists a bunch of pansies?

SP: Hm, I wonder if Peiper would put his money where his mouth is and tell all the riders on his BMC team to stay in Belgium and tough it out when the winter weather comes …

FD: I mean, he’s totally calling them pansies. No debate here. But hey, Allan Peiper rode the Gavia in 1988 so I think he’s legally free to call anybody a pansy without retribution.

Let’s play a little game of Kiss, Marry, Kill (you know this game). What three extreme weather condition would you kiss, marry, and kill?

SP: I say kiss wind because crosswinds make for exciting racing (hello Gent-Wevelgem fans!). Marry hot weather because it’s nice when you don’t need leg warmers. And kill snow because, if it gets to that point, the pros should be out doing those silly winter training camp activities, like when they go skiing in team kit or have snowball fights.

FD: You kiss snow because it produces those epic, crazy, once-in-a-decade type experiences that you brag to your buddies about for years afterward (“There were three feet of snow on the ground and I was riding in shorts!”). You marry wind because it keeps you on your toes, never let’s you get complacent, and sometimes scares you straight. You kill hot because if you run out of water, hot will kill you first.