As the UCI considers officially implementing a policy to protect riders from the dangers from extreme weather, and the professional riders in North America banded together to ensure better treatment, the USA's amateur riders are getting no such protections. After soaring temperatures at the USA Cycling Amateur National Championships in Truckee, California, several riders succumbed to heat stroke and almost 100 riders dropped out of Wednesday's races.
Jon Crowson, a 26-year-old elite amateur from Knoxville, Tennessee, dropped out of the championship race on Wednesday after running out of water and becoming dehydrated. Unaware that the race would not offer neutral support for water, he vented on the social media outlet after his ordeal, tagging the national governing body in each comment:
"@usacycling you charge $100 for a road race that starts at 3:30 in the afternoon and decide NOT to have neutral feed?!!!' #RoadNats
@usacycling you charge $100 for a road race and you don't have any sort of wheel truck, no neutral wheels?!!! #RoadNats
@usacycling you charge $100 and you have a single sag wagon for 2 races that have over 100 ppl per field?!!!!! #RoadNats
@usacycling you call this "amateur" #RoadNats yet you are expecting competitors to have pro level support?!!!
@usacycling I watched (from the sag wagon) a guy sitting on the road with an IV in him who had been passed by every single race vehicle.
@usacycling that guy had been stopped there from the u-23 race and stayed there probably 30-40 minutes before the sag wagon stopped," he wrote.
Friends later informed him that the race communique included a $20 fine slapped on him for "USAC Rule 8A5(i) Actions not specifically covered by the rules but bringing discredit upon the sport".
When contacted by Cyclingnews, USA Cycling's VP of National Events Micah Rice said that the organization itself does not fine riders, and especially not for complaining. "If I did that, I would be rich," he quipped.
Officials later clarified to Cyclingnews that the fine was for a curse word that Crowson uttered when in the sag wagon.
Although the fine was unrelated to the complaints, Crowson's criticisms rang true with several riders. Holding a race at altitude where temperatures soared to 100 degrees (F) in low humidity holds obvious dangers for riders, including dangerous dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
Rice defended the race, saying it was announced in the guide that there would be no neutral feed. "It was clear in the tech guide that riders needed to either put a car in the caravan for support or get someone to the three feed zones in the course map to get bottle support," Rice said, and Crowson did not dispute that. At an amateur championship, many riders come without team support, family or friends, and have no way to arrange for feeds.
"The fact that I got dropped because I was dehydrated was my fault. I was stupid and overlooked the statement in the tech guide that said 'there will be no neutral feed'," Crowson said to Cyclingnews. "I take full responsibility for my DNF. With that being said, I feel that a fine for posting those Tweets about how dangerous and unorganized this event was, is uncalled for. By USA Cycling not having something as simple as a neutral feed put many people in a lot of danger, [even] people that had feeds. I was frustrated I spent $100 on a horribly run and dangerous race, I posted that frustration on social media, and then I got fined for posting that frustration on social media."
About 40-50 riders dropped out of each elite and U23 race on Wednesday afternoon, but the race struggled to keep up with the influx of riders in the sag wagons. Crowson, during the several hours he spent in the sag wagon, witnessed dozens upon dozens of riders abandoning in the heat, some having friends or teams picking them up, or others waiting to climb into the already full sag wagon, most suffering from dehydration.
"The driver kept trying to get hold of another sag vehicle to come and relieve our car because there was no way we could fit more riders. With about 15 miles left in the race, the other sag driver saw us and relieved us and we went flying to the finish area. At that point, it was 7:45 pm, the U-23 race started at 3:00 pm. And there were still U-23 and Elite riders on the course," Crowson said.
One of those riders was Zane Torre, who started the U23 race but ran into trouble after also running out of water and falling victim to a potentially life-threatening bout of heat stroke. In a public Facebook post, Torre describes running out of water after getting his first feed, and then blacking out several times, having the medical car pass him without stopping, and then vomiting. Finally, a police officer found him and called in an ambulance, and he received treatment for heat stroke an hour after his symptoms began. He fortunately recovered, but without prompt treatment, heat stroke can be deadly.
Lance Eddis-Finbow of Phoenix, Arizona, commented on the post by Torre, saying he came well equipped for the race but also ended up with heat stroke. "I was drinking right until the start of the race, carried 4 bottles with me and still ran out before the second feed zone. I drove up here by myself so I had no support at the feeds but assumed there would be neutral feed so didn't think too much of it. Eventually collapsed and couldn't stop throwing up at the top of the climb just a few miles from the finish, was driven back to Northstar and was barely functioning."
Crowson's $20 fine was insult to injury after he had to drop out of a race which he struggled to afford to do in the first place. "For a while, I just thought I was being emotional after a disappointing race, but when USAC slapped me with the fine and then I received all the support from other people, I realized maybe I wasn't in the wrong for posting that. I have a car payment, and student loans (I just paid off my credit card making minimum payments of $25 per month), I spend some summer months living with my dad in Boulder, and probably nine months of the year living with my mom in Knoxville ... So that is pretty much where I am. That is why the $100 entry fee and travel expenses to get here is no joke for me."
This article was corrected to counter assertions that Crowson was fined for his Twitter comments. Cyclingnews apologises to the head official.