By Kirsten Robbins
An enormous sixteen minute time gap formed between the early break away and the peloton during second stage of the Tour of Missouri Wednesday, causing race organizers much worry - primarily over the safety of the riders and lengthy road closures leading to frustration within the host communities.
When the time gap increased to nearly seventeen minutes the riders' safety became a factor because the number of police vehicles available to cover the front, rear and gap between the packs was stretched dangerously thin. At points the gap between the leaders and the peloton was largely un-patrolled with the security team relying on the fact the race traveled through sparsely populated areas.
Beyond safety, road closures are one of the primary concerns on the list during the preliminary discussions before a community agrees to host an event of the caliber of the Tour of Missouri. Though the community is often excited to have a bike race involving the highest ranked team in the world use their streets, they do not sign up to wait in thirty-minute traffic jams when a break and peloton are so far apart.
Race director Jim Birrell commented on issues at hand during the post race press conference, noting that the time and effort needed to manage the peloton while out on the roads is based largely on the expectations of the cyclists' estimated time of arrival. "When we go out and design these courses and work with the municipalities we have a pretty good idea of what type of ETA's we expect the riders to come into the host cities," said Birrell. "So when a break away develops and exceeds those expectations it requires a lot of management and care -- to stay in constant communication with the State Police and to inform them of that breakaway. Fortunately today there was a little bit of a chase at the end, which reduced the time gap a little."
The time gap also brought back memories of a similar race scenario from this year's third stage of the Tour de Georgia, where the break's gap increased to an unheard of twenty-nine minutes. The break in Georgia and here were not only similar in length but also in that neither involved a team member of the current race leader. As the leading team, Toyota-Untied started an immediate chase to reduce the gap to the leaders on the road but gave up shortly after not receiving help from the remaining teams with out representation in the break.
"I would hope that the teams would have spoken to one another," said Birrell."I don't know what happened with the four teams that weren't in the break. But it has been two tours back-to-back where teams didn't step up to defend their yellow jersey; the first with Tinkoff at the Tour de Georgia and now Toyota-United, and Toyota didn't even make and attempt to support the groups that started to formed later in the race. I'm left without words to describe what went on in the chase group today."
Toyota-United's team director Harm Jansen defended his team by citing previous races where they did their share of work at the front of the American peleton and giving a butcher's bill of his riders' unlucky circumstances. "We have two years of history of American Professional Tour stage races here in the US and we have probably been the ones who have been at the front the most of it," said Jansen. "Of course we have always had fast sprinters like JJ Haedo and Ivan Dominguez."
"We did a lot of work yesterday too with one ride cut because they [the organizers] qualified yesterday's stage as a flat stage, while it was hillier than today. Sullivan is sick with asthma problems, Stevic has a bad knee and pulled out of the race, Baldwin crashed twice, Dominguez is our leader and two of our riders left, England and Blackgrove are just spent from yesterday. So the only guy I had left was Wherry and I'm not going to finish off that last piece of bread I have left on my plate."
"We made the race yesterday and today we were the first team to start to chase when the break went up the road and I think that the other teams had an incentive to chase too. I think some teams gave away their GC with this break and they had an incentive to chase too. I even put the two guys I had left on the front for the last hour but I wasn't going to spend Chris Wherry, I have to keep someone."
Full results and report here.