In an amazing display of courage and solidarity, disqualified riders, including the leaders of all major classifications in the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay rode through the extreme weather conditions anyway, after official buses and transport had left the riders stranded at the start of stage 6b.
Speaking to Cyclingnews Menso de Jong (Wonderful Pistachios Pro Cycling) recounted the way the day's events unfolded.
"We still rode the entire course at 50+ km/hr, after the race promoter sent the buses ahead of us, leaving no way to get to the next hotel. We had already been checked out of the previous hotel - so we had no choice," an exasperated de Jong said.
"We then stopped at 3k to go and waited for all the people who were dropped. Twenty minutes later we rolled to the 1k to go, stopped and were cheered by the locals for our sportsmanship. We stopped again 10m from the line, surrounded by cheering locals who fed us and gave us post-race Coca-Cola.
"Keep in mind that it was raining the whole race and we had been standing around shivering for almost half an hour at this point. Once all the stragglers arrived, we avoided the line and went to the hotel."
De Jong was extremely critical of the flip-flop decision to cancel the morning's stage but go ahead with the afternoon's event.
"We were ready to race at 8 in the morning - and they suspend racing - but in the same conditions later in the day they say we have to race," he explained.
De Jong's criticism mirrors his teammate's, Iggy Silva, who tweeted about the strange decision to race earlier in the day.
Cyclingnews' earlier coverage:
In what was one of the most unusual decisions by race organisers in recent cycling history, 66, of a total of 96 riders, were disqualified from the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay after protesting about extreme weather conditions.
The protest was lead by a number of senior riders and team managers who had raised concerns about lighting storms and high winds that had suspended the morning’s time trial. Organisers of the race however argued that conditions had improved sufficiently in the afternoon for the second half of the day’s stage to go ahead, a 118 km ride from Salto to Pasayundo.
After a long standoff between the protesting riders and the organisers, the head of the race, Victor Hugo Ramírez informed participants that the stage would not be suspended, and that riders refusing to race would be disqualified.
At this point, the 30 riders who chose not to take part in the protest started the stage and the 66 protesters were, as threatened to be, disqualified.
Ramírez was unsympathetic to the riders and defended his decision continue with the stage. He also refused to reinstate the riders who had refused to race.
"The tour will continue for those who raced today and were given official results," said Ramírez.
"There will be no reverse in the decision to disqualify the riders, nor to suspend the stage."
The decision’s stubbornness will come as a surprise to many pundits, particularly considering that a number of the GC favourites were part of the protest, notably Uruguayan Ivan Cline.
Iggy Silva (Wonderful Pistachios Pro Cycling) was bemused by the commissaries decision.
"Craziness today in Uruguay," he commented via Twitter.
"They cancelled the morning stage for the same reason. There’s clearly no consistency with the UCI."
With four stages remaining it seems that only a significantly depleted field will finish the 2011 Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay.
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