Stage 5 of the Tour of Oman ended in a mass argument between riders and organisers over security concerns regarding the extreme heat. It was the hottest day of the race so far with Arnaud Démare claiming that his SRM showed a reading of 50 degrees Celsius during the descent of the Bouscher Al Amerat climb. After more than half an hour of discussion between the two parties, the riders were allowed to take an alternative route, which avoided the contentious climb, back to their team vehicles by the Ministry of Housing.
“It was for the security of the riders. It is nothing against the organisers but it was impossible to do a descent at 85kph when the temperature is 47 degrees. The tyres were boiling and some of the guys could take them off with their hands and usually you can’t do that,” Fabian Cancellara said at the finish line. “The UCI has to organise regulations for extreme weather, like here with the heat and Milan-San Remo with the snow.”
The stage had already been shortened due to high winds at the start at Al Sawadi Beach, which had caused sandstorm that made it impossible to stay outside. The race convoy moved to the foot of the Bouscher Al Amerat climb and at 1:30 local time a neutralised start was flagged, with four laps of a circuit pencilled in. The plan was for the first ascent to be neutralised and then the riders were to race the final three laps but it quickly became clear that this would not happen.
Several riders’ tyres melted in the heat – Bardiani CSF suffered six tyre explosions - while some found that their brakes were not working as they ought to, and so the peloton pulled over into the shade under a bridge. Cancellara, who handed his leader’s jersey to Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) after yesterday’s stage, was one of the spokesmen for the riders.
“It’s our life and life is more important than anything else. These riders they ride the bikes,” he said to Salim bin Mubarak Al Hasani – Committee member for Sport Events and Tour of Oman – who replied that if they cancelled the stage then the final day would not take place and the race could end for good.
Yohan Offredo (FDJ) also assisted with the talks and entered into a heated discussion with race director Eddy Merckx, who was determined for the race to carry on. Riders said that they would be happy to compete in a flat race and there were talks about a criterium-style stage but they soon fell through. Organisers then tried to get the riders to complete one more ascent and descent, but after a meeting between rider representatives for each team they refused. In the end, the stage was cancelled and the riders were allowed to take an alternate, flat, route back to the finish with race leader Valls leading them over the line.
"I'm disappointed, yes, because this could endanger the future of the Tour of Oman,” Merckx said after returning to the race hotel. “When it rains in Paris-Roubaix is also dangerous. But they don't climb off their bikes.”
The Tour of Oman resumes on Sunday with the 133-kilometre final stage to Matrah Corniche.