Mixed feelings after an epic stage in Poland

The question of the race's neutralisation was raised within the riders at the Tour of Poland on Sunday, after a storm hit the epic opening stage. After a boiling start from Gdansk where the temperature reached 36°C, weather took an unexpected brutal turn with hailstones for one minute, then a strong wind and a heavy rain for around a quarter of an hour. The rain stopped in the last hour of competition but it had left a dramatic mark on the race : a blend of leaves, branches and even one fallen tree covering the slippy roads to Bydgoszcz, muddy faces and several bruises for the riders and also one abandon: Janez Brajkovic (Astana).

After they crossed the finish line, some riders complained about safety conditions while most of the sports directors disagreed and tried to temper and rationalise the situation.

"Some races have been neutralised for less than that," Maxime Monfort (Lotto Belisol) told Cyclingnews. "We tried to slow down and wait for the attendees but it was difficult to do so because there was a breakaway."

Movistar's Adriano Malori has no single injury either, but the Italian rouleur (now 1'11" to Ag2r-La Mondiale's Yauheni Hutarovich) said the "timing should have been kept when the storm appeared". He pointed out that "race organisers, notably at the Giro d'Italia, always say the race must go on."

A suggestion of compromise emerged from Nathan Brown (Garmin-Sharp): "No neutralisation, we do the final sprint but time is kept when the first crashes occur."

Some potential contenders for GC lost large amounts of time on the first stage, including Julian Arredondo of Trek Racing Team (6'13'') and Astana's Fabio Aru (10'25'').

"That's really a pity for them but that's part of the race," Tour of Poland general director Czeslaw Lang said.

For the organisers and UCI commissaires, stopping the race has never been a serious option. "One kilometer after the storm began, the road was already clear again," recalled the President of the panel of commissaires, Peter Stuppacher. "Bad weather is part of cycling, nobody would complain if it happens at Paris-Roubaix. More over, having neutralised the race, it would have been disrespectful for the organisation, spectators, television and sponsors."

According to the official standings, the 82 riders of the main peloton were ranked all in the same time.

Cyclingnews met Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge), who agreed with the jury's decision although he was involved in a crash himself. "OK, there was rain, but what can we do?," the Australian asked. "All the riders know risks..."

His sports director, Vittorio Algeri, said "the crashes were not the fault of the organisation. The final circuit was really beautiful. But the asphalt has certainly been freshly remade and it makes the roads very slippy."

A member of the long breakaway and a victim of a fall in a corner, Jimmy Engoulvent (Team Europcar) thought technical issues played a role in the day's chaos. "Nobody was expecting such a bad weather so the pressure inside the tyres was really high. It gives less control when the roads are wet."

Engoulvent, awarded the most aggressive rider of the stage, wasn't supporting the idea of a race's neutralisation.

Arturas Kasputis, Ag2r La Mondiale's directeur sportif, had at least two reasons to stand behind the decision of letting the race go: he did win the stage through Hutarovich and he always liked an epic atmosphere when he was a pro rider. "Cycling is not only about sun. Wind and rain are also part of sport," he said.

Czeslaw Lang, a former pro rider in the 1980s, tried to joke a bit after the finish. "For the cyclists, bad weather doesn't exist. We have either excellent days or just 'good' days!"

The race's boss underlined "cycling is a sport for tough men, and today our riders showed how strong they are." 

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