At a pre-race press conference ahead of next week's Tour Down Under, race organiser Mike Turtur told reporters that stages of this year's race could be shortened due to hot weather, with a further announcement expected on Monday.
Why on earth, people often ask, is the race held at what is the hottest time of the year in South Australia, when temperatures regular reach into the 40s degrees Centigrade? The answer, as Turtur is always at pains to explain, is so that the race can enjoy the attendance of the school-holiday crowd, replicating the Tour de France with its summer-holiday vibes.
The riders' wellbeing, Turtur is also at pains to make clear, is nevertheless paramount, and while over the years most of them have been able to enjoy most stages in pleasant, sunny conditions, with the mercury in the top 20s or low 30s, occasionally action is required to protect the riders' health.
"When you get those hot days, it's no good for anyone," Turtur explained to Cyclingnews. "But we're dealing with professional athletes, professionals teams, and there's the UCI extreme weather protocol in place, with rider representatives, and team representatives, and we sit down with the race commissaires and race organisation, and we discuss things – as we did at last year's race when we had three days on the trot around 40 degrees, and then modified the race to accommodate the requirements of the athletes. And it worked well.
"We always work together, we always have positive outcomes, and we'll do the same this year, without any question," he continued. "We also work with the emergency services: the country fire service, the South Australian police, and so on. We're in constant contact with them throughout the race. Every day we meet, every day we brief. We try to cover every possibility.
"Our ultimate ambition is to make sure that everyone's safe and healthy, so I think it goes without saying, really, that we've got a great working relationship with all the teams, and we make sure that we maintain that and do the right thing, as we've always done."
Santos Women's Tour Down Under director Kimberley Conte told Cyclingnews that she follows a very similar process to Turtur when ensuring that the riders are safe.
"We've not had to shorten our stages before, but we of course always have contingency plans to do that – not only for hot weather, but any type of fire danger, or like last year when we had visibility issues on one stage," Conte said.
"A few years ago, though, when the race finished in Victoria Park, in Adelaide, it was absolutely a consideration. We were monitoring the weather and speaking to the riders and teams, but thankfully by the time we raced, the temperature had dropped significantly, but it is something we like to be on the front foot with."
With the possibility of needing to shorten a stage front of mind, Turtur explained that both the men's and women's editions of the race are frequently designed accordingly.
"Where we can – and it can't be on every stage because it's not always possible – we try to have the option of a shortcut that could be taken to reduce the length of a 'point-to-point' stage. On stages that finish with circuits, we can obviously just reduce the number of laps to make the race shorter.
"Generally, the men's stages here are only between 130km and 150km anyway, so they're not excessively long," he said. "Having said that, I know it's the beginning of the year, and that's a big factor that we always acknowledge – that the riders are just starting the season, so we can't expose them to excessive conditions, and we modify things in conjunction with the rider representative and the team representative, and I sit down with the commissaires and say, 'This is what we've decided,' and they normally agree, and away we go. We've got a good system."
The UCI's Extreme Weather Protocol was introduced in 2016, and has been implemented a number of times since, including at last year's men's Tour Down Under, but also on a stage of the Tour of Denmark in 2017, when the riders were greeted with heavy rain and strong winds on stage 2, with the race being stopped with 70km to go.
At this year's Tour Down Under, with temperatures expected to reach close to 40 degrees when the men's stage race starts on Tuesday, Turtur told reporters at the pre-race press conference on Saturday that a decision would be made the day before the race.
"The riders' representative here is Adam Hansen [Lotto Soudal] and the team managers' representative is Matt White [Mitchelton-Scott]. We'll consult with them, and then come to a consensus with the race commissaires," said Turtur. "Then we'll make an announcement on Monday, after the technical meeting.
"It's fair to say that there will be a modification of a stage. That will be agreed upon and announced on Monday," he said.
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