UCI President Brian Cookson has told Cyclingnews that the UCI is mindful of possible extreme weather conditions at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar, saying that riders' health will take precedence over racing.
It is exactly a year until the Elite men's road race is due to be held in Doha, the Qatar capital, on Sunday October 16. The World Championships will begin on Sunday October 9 with the team time trial championships. These dates are two weeks on from when the World Championships are usually held.
Cookson was speaking in Abu Dhabi, while attending the final stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour and the UCI Cycling Gala organised in the Gulf state. He experienced the high temperatures of the region at first hand, with riders racing the four stages of the Abu Dhabi Tour in temperatures of between 36-40C. Current temperatures in Qatar are around 35C – the average for the period and similar to high temperatures experienced during the Tour de France.
"Obviously we need to be mindful of the health aspects. We will have the Extreme Weather Protocol in place and we will operate under that," Cookson told Cyclingnews.
The Extreme Weather Protocol was formally agreed by the UCI at the recent Richmond World Championships and will come into place in 2016. In the past the final decision on safe racing conditions was the responsibility of race organisers, who were sometimes under pressure to put their commercial interests before rider safety. This had led to races and stages being held in extreme conditions, with alternatives or the cancelation of races not considered. The protocol was followed as a trial during this year's Giro d'Italia but no extreme situations arose.
Under the Extreme Weather Protocol, any of a race stakeholders, including the riders, can call for a meeting to be held if conditions include freezing rain, snow, strong winds, extreme temperatures, poor visibility and air pollution. Depending on the conditions, changes can be made to the race start venue, the finish venue and the race course. A section of a race can be neutralised or the race cancelled.
Cookson is confident temperatures will not be as high in Qatar as they were in Abu Dhabi, while local organisers have already announced that extra drink feed zones and even motorbike bottle carriers will be available to help athletes stay hydrated.
"All the indications are that it won't be quite as hot in Qatar as it was in Abu Dhabi," Cookson said. "The UCI World Championships will be held a little bit later than the Abu Dhabi Tour and I've been told that the temperatures that the riders raced in were exceptional. I think we will be okay but we will be mindful of the riders’ health. Riders' health will take precedence."