The organisers of the Dubai Tour had hoped their early decision to modify stage 4 of the race would ensure a finish at Hatta Dam, but with wind speed increasing and gusts almost lifting riders off their feet, they were forced to accept that nature sometimes has the final say, even concerning professional bike races.
Mauro Vegni, the head of cycling of RCS Sport had held a long meeting with local authorities on Thursday evening, convincing them to modify the Queen stage of the race, replacing the 172km stage across the Dubai peninsular with two 50km circuits before the uphill finish on the slopes of Hatta Dam.
The riders signed on at the Dubai Marina, as planned, at 9:00am and then the race caravan drove for two hours to Hatta in a convoy, seeing first-hand the desert sand storm they had avoided. There was hope of finding better conditions in the Hatta area but on arrival everyone saw that the wind was stronger than in downtown Dubai. The riders were clearly unenthusiastic about even trying to race and waited without getting ready to even try to ride their bikes. Their message was clear: it was too dangerous.
There was some confusion because the CPA riders association, and the teams, had failed to nominate their race representatives for the Extreme Weather Protocol, but Vegni called an improvised meeting with various riders and teams in the nearby Hatta football stadium. Everyone quickly agreed it was far too risky to even try to start the stage.
“There was just too much wind to race safely and we would have taken a huge risk even trying,” Vegni explained to the media waiting for news at the stadium. “Weather forecasts expected another increase in the strength of the wind in the afternoon, with a wind at 35 knots, which is around 65km/h. Gusts were also likely and that would have been far too risky for the riders, and it could have caused a lot of crashes.
“We hoped that things would have been okay after moving the stage to the Hatta Dam area and cutting out the long exposed section in the desert. We hoped the hills would have protected the race and that the rocky landscape meant there wouldn’t be a sandstorm. However, the wind blew down the valleys and was so strong that it was moving the cars on the way here.”
Riders and race organisers often have different views and different opinions when the weather turns for the worst but this time there was unanimity.
“Nobody was against the decision to cancel the stage. There’s sometimes a difference of opinion between the race organisers, teams and riders but this time we the organisers were the first to understand that the conditions were far too difficult to race,” Vegni said.
UCI rules stop an improvised time trail stage
The riders had offered to race an improvised individual time trial up to the planned finish on Hatta Dam, but Vegni explained that such a radical change is not allowed under UCI rules.
“It’s not possible to have a radically different stage because it alters the nature of the race,” he said. “A time trial would penalise the teams who came here with a team selected for the sprints. It just wouldn’t be fair for everyone.”
The four classification leaders of the race and riders from other teams agreed to pose for photographs atop Hatta Dam. They felt the strong winds and quickly became cold. Marcel Kittel agreed to a quick television interview but soon after he started to speak a gust of wind almost blew over the tent structure. He quickly ran to the Quick-Step Floors team car to begin the two-hour drive back to the hotel.
The Dubai is scheduled to conclude on Saturday with a 124km stage around downtown Dubai. Kittel is now the favourite to win overall for a second consecutive time.
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