The UCI’s extreme weather protocol saw the cancellation of stages at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this spring, but the procedure faced a rather more robust test at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. Suspending one leg of a stage race is one thing, calling off a Monument is something else altogether.
All week, the weather forecaster predicted a snowy edition of La Doyenne, and on Sunday morning, it emerged that the newspapers were right: snow was general over at least some pockets of the Ardennes.
In such instances, the extreme weather protocol calls for a meeting before the race between a rider representative and race officials to discuss possible courses of action. A face-to-face meeting did not take place on this occasion as the appointed CPA delegate Kristof Vandewalle was unable to attend the race due to illness. Instead, Cristian Salvato of the Italian riders' association – following the race as a spectator – took on the role, and liaised with organisers ASO and the commissaires by telephone, having spoken with riders and teams before the start.
An hour into the race, it was announced that Liège-Bastogne-Liège would follow an alternative route to avoid a 30-kilometre section (starting after 45 kilometres) where heavy snow had fallen and stuck to the ground. The deviation took five kilometres off the total distance, but the race was able to proceed unhindered, returning to the course in time for the first climb, the Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne.
“I have to thank the police for doing so well, because changing 20 kilometres of the course at that speed is very difficult. Personally, I’ve never lived through such a complicated race in weather like this. My congratulations to everybody who manged to finish,” ASO director Christian Prudhomme told RTBF after Wout Poels (Sky) had won Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Although temperatures hovered around three degrees, and snow and sleet continued to fall intermittently for the rest of the day, there were no further amendments to the course, though the riders faced another heavy thicket of snow approaching the Côte de la Redoute, a scene that briefly brought back memories of the snow-interrupted Milan-San Remo of 2013.
In the end, however, some 154 of the 200 starters reached the finish in Ans – last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, by contrast, had just 100 finishers – and only three crash-related injuries were reported in the official medical bulletin. Cannondale’s Michael Woods and Tom-Jelte Slagter and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) were all recorded as having sustained bruising, but no broken bones.
“There were fewer crashes [than normal], perhaps because people more nervous about the possibility,” Prudhomme said. “Our philosophy was: if the road is clear, then we continue. That was why we stopped a stage of Paris-Nice, in conjunction with the president of the UCI commissaires on the race.”
The decision to change the route but proceed with the race was praised by Salvato. “The conditions weren’t acceptable on that stretch of road so they took that wise decision to re-route it,” he told Cyclingnews. “The organisers applied the extreme weather protocol by altering the course because of the temperatures and because there was snow sticking to the ground in some parts of that area, so it was dangerous for the riders there.”