By Jeff Jones
If UCI president Hein Verbruggen hoped that the Eneco Benelux Tour would make a good example of a ProTour race, he would not have been happy with today's fourth stage between Landgraaf and Verviers, which had to be halted after the peloton accidentally went off course at approximately 60 km to go. At that point, a breakaway with Christian Vandevelde (CSC), Jason McCartney (Discovery), and Bart Dockx (Davitamon-Lotto) had over 6'00 on the chasing peloton, but when the bunch found its way back onto the parcours, it was 15 minutes behind. The organisers decided to stop the race, with the police having to physically restrain the breakaway riders from going further. When the restart happened at 43 km to go, the break was given just 4'00 and was caught with 15 km left.
Team CSC's first director Scott Sunderland was back with the peloton when the whole mess occurred. He explained it all to Cyclingnews: "It happened at the bottom of the descent after the Wanne. Instead of going left, they took us straight. One of the signallers had left his post. He'd gone on ahead and didn't stay there. By the time we realised it, we were halfway up another hill and couldn't come back down again.
"The peloton had to do an extra hill, but the lead riders didn't go wrong. The commissaires messed around until they made a decision about it. I told Tristan Hoffman [CSC's new director, who is not replacing Sunderland - ed.] to tell Vandevelde to keep going. In Tirreno-Adriatico a few years ago, the peloton went the wrong way and it was the end of the race. Back then it was up to the riders to know. Apparently now, the commissaire said we have a thing called "un accident de course", which means they have the right to stop the race and restart it with the proper time differences.
"It depends on which point of view you have: On one side, there's Davitamon, Discovery, and me. On the other is Rabobank and Liberty. For me it was double sided: a) I've got someone in front for the stage win, and b) I've got Frank Schleck, Bobby Julich, and Michael Blaudzun trying to open it up for the overall classement.
"I was talking to the commissaire, who said that if they [the breakaways] don't stop he'll disqualify them and cancel the whole stage. So I said, 'OK, we'll go ahead and we'll discuss this later.'"
"For me, I wanted to make a decision and do it quickly. When they stopped them, they didn't give them the full 6'30. If they could have had that extra minute, then maybe it would have been different. Also, all the other teams regrouped; Rabobank and Liberty gained some extra men. At the end of it, it was a completely bad situation. It was very bad for the riders, the race, everything.
"But we had to keep racing. I'm frustrated with how it was, with everyone being inconvenienced. You're there to race, not sit around discussing it. We had to go on."
"I'm very happy with how the team rode. We have the mountain jersey, and we've been animating the race. We'll see what happens - maybe we can still do something. It's going to be harder but not impossible."
Sunderland didn't lay the blame entirely at the race organisers' feet, pointing out that it was just one of those things that can happen when someone doesn't do their job. On the Eneco Tour as a whole, he said, "This race has got great possibility to be a very big race. It hasn't been such a bad race, but there's room for improvement. The one thing they do have to do is to get rid of these finishing circuits. The ones we've had are not safe. And if you have a finishing circuit, that you close it off for the overall GC. Nobody's got a problem with a finishing circuit if it's not for the overall classification. It leads to unnecessary risk taking. There's enough risk taking in cycling already. We don't need to take more by having 50 corners. I've always said that as a rider.",