Foul weather grounds race communication plane

By Kirsten Robbins in Santa Rosa, California

The Tour of California stage one communication fell apart when bad weather conditions prevented a fixed-wing aircraft carrying race communications tools from taking off. According to Jim Birrell, the race technical director, not having the necessary equipment kept ties between the technical directors and the race directors down for the majority of the 173-kilometre road race.

"The weather played into a lot of the decision we had to make today," said Birrell regarding the official decision to call the race as the first rider, Mancebo, entered onto the first circuit.

"The fixed wing aircraft couldn't leave the airport because there was ice at 4000 feet. All of our repeater units were in that fixed wing aircraft.

Birrell normally has the ability to communicate with the race officials, race caravan and technical directors between the start and the finish line of every stage. However, due to the problems communication shifted to mobile phones.

"It helps to prepare for when the riders come into town. When there is a long break away those riders on one side of a mountain and the field on the other side of the mountain, I can't talk through that mountain on a simplex radio. The second thing is that it has the repeaters for videos. We didn't see most of the race today because the fixed wing was on the ground."

The event also had two helicopters carrying video equipment. However, the helicopters only capacity to fly for two hours before refuelling and can only fly up to 1000 feet.

At one point the stage one break away had gained twelve minutes on the field. As the leaders descended one side of the mountain, the peloton was more than five miles behind on the other side of the mountain, preventing the officials from communicating accurate time splits to the to the teams.

Birrell made the decision to stop the GC time on the competing riders as they entered the finishing circuits. "If you recall, in 2007 we had a pretty bad crash here at the finish line," Birrell said. "We made the decision, for the safety of the riders."

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