By Lennard Zinn
Planning courses in urban areas in Europe requires imagination to balance the needs of the public with those of the riders and the race entourage. Courses like we had the first two days in Luxembourg are great examples. The courses were interesting, they went right through the middle of the city center, and they caused very little disruption.
The prologue course was downright scary in places, being very narrow and curvy and rough in spots. It had one particularly hair-raising downhill left turn on a narrow, fast descent in a cobblestone alley. Only the very gutsiest riders stayed on their aero’ bars there.
Most look petrified as they used the brakes, stood up, and rattled down. Even the uphill turns were scary – they were narrow and sharp, and the riders were going very fast, often with a full head of steam from a prior descent.
The town of Luxembourg is built atop a few steep hills with deep valleys separating them. The city is surrounded by medieval walls, and access to and from town is very limited.
Within town, the streets are serpentine and narrow, with many confusing one-way streets and lots of pedestrian streets. It is not easy to make a 7km course looping up, down and around the town and its hills and valleys without bringing traffic to a standstill, but the designers managed to.
On stage 1, it was very difficult to come up to town if you were not on a bike or in a city bus. I managed to do it by bike on the same route as the riders a couple of hours before, albeit a bit slower than Bertogliati came up the hill.
But if you wanted to leave town by car, there was almost no added hassles. The traffic was not allowed up or down the main hill, but downward traffic was shunted off to the right just at the edge of the city wall where the riders made the first of two sharp right turns in the final 500 meters.
A huge bridge on a major highway spanning the deep valley directly above the 1km to go banner on the climb to the stage 1 finish was closed. It had become parking and access for press vehicles between the press center on the next hill and the start/finish of the prologue and stage one.
This could have caused lots of congestion, but in this case, since the road had a lot of construction on it anyway, a number of detours were already built in and well signed.
At the world road championships in Lugano, Switzerland (Reubens Bertogliati’s hometown) in 1996, people could still drive right to the center of the city at the center of the loop course ten minutes before the finish without hassle and with very little traffic. The course was so skillfully designed it could loop all up and down the surrounding hills and past the stadium in the center of each lap without disrupting traffic to the center.
It is tough enough to get around the centers of old European cities without the world’s biggest bike race coming through. It is a real credit to the course designers that they can create interesting, challenging courses that have good pedestrian access and viewing spots while at the same time not bringing traffic to a standstill. That will be one of the major challenges to confront if the USA were ever to host the start of the Tour de France or another multi-day major road race.
For instance, if the world road championships were to come to the awesome course used for last year’s San Francisco Grand Prix, could the course through town be closed for a week without ruffling many feathers and disrupting business enormously? We can only hope….
Also, Rubens Bertogliati’s Fondriest was a Don Racer with soft paint, as I said yesterday, but the one he rode was not one of the team bikes with the SAT finish and photos of the Lampre Daikin team from 2002.
His had the standard blue-purple-black team paint job. And even though Deda has delivered a number of the Mag00 magnesium stems and Spectrum carbon bars to the team, Bertogliati was using the standard Magic oversized aluminum forged stem and bar. His teammate, Raimondas Rumsas, for instance, is riding the Spectrum.
Bertogliati’s wheels were Fir aluminum rims laced to Campy Record hubs, not Fir Antara deeps-section carbon rims laced to PMP hubs (and coupled with homemade cork brake pads) like some other riders on the team. We can expect that Rubens will move up the equipment pecking order on the team now, though!