The U23 men’s time trial at the World Championships was as much a battle against the conditions as it was a test of legs, with heavy rain leaving huge pools of water across numerous sections of the course.
There were some spectacular crashes, notably Hungary’s Attila Valter, who slid across the road for nearly 100 metres, and Denmark’s Johan Price-Pejtersen, who hit a pool so deep he went nowhere. Several more riders hit the deck, but no one was severely injured.
The scenes sparked debate over the safety of the event, and whether the race should have been halted or postponed.
Cyclingnews spoke to a number of riders as they came through the media zone at the finish, and opinion was divided. While some riders felt the conditions were within the limits of race-ability, others felt action should have been taken.
“All of a sudden I was in a big pool of water. I’ve never experienced that before,” said Price-Pejtersen, who felt he’d have been in contention for a medal had he not crashed.
“It was very extreme. In my opinion, they should have cancelled it until at least the pools were gone and the rain had stopped being so extreme.”
While the Dane was measured in his comments, the anger flowed from Switzerland's Stefan Bissegger, who crashed just five kilometres into his effort.
“It was like riding into a lake. I lost control and just plunged into the water, like diving into a bathtub. You can’t do anything about it. I was ok, but still, it could have been very ugly for a lot of people," he said.
“In my opinion it should have been cancelled or something. You could already see even before the start... it was crazy. The roads are the problem and I don’t think they’ve really thought about them, In Switzerland there’s channelling and the water flows away, but not here. They should have thought about this in advance. When you’re putting on a World Championships you should be aware of the weather you often get.”
'It's an outdoor sport'
There were, however, plenty of opinions on the opposite end of the spectrum. Norway’s Iver Johan Knotten, who suffered numerous mechanical problems and ended up finishing the race on a road bike that was too small for him, insisted adverse weather conditions are part and parcel of road cycling.
“It's rain, but that's how it is. It’s an outdoor sport. The course was not too dangerous," he said.
"Of course, it was a little bit dangerous, but that’s sport. You can’t do anything about the weather. If you can’t do the race because of some rain, you may as well do it inside, on a velodrome or something. It’s an outdoor sport.”:
Plenty of others struck a similar note. The USA's Ian Garrison, who claimed the silver medal, said: “The conditions made the TT more dangerous, but aside from a few downhills… it’s hard to say… it’s as dangerous as you want to make it.
"My philosophy is that you can’t change anything, you just have to go as fast as you can with what you’re given.”
Great Britain’s Charles Quarterman argued: “It’s good to test the riding skills of the riders. I think it was fine, there was nothing out there that was really too tough and the roads are grippy enough so it was alright."
Expanding on the nature of the challenge, the future Trek-Segafredo rider added: “I knew enough about what was coming up and kept a close eye out, but you don’t know where all the big patches are coming, so there’s only so much you can do. It meant you had to push that bit more every pedal stroke and, with all the lactic, you have to have a clear head to avoid all these massive puddles. It was pretty much as hard as it comes with conditions.”
As for the new world champion, the rain had eased by the time Mikkel Bjerg was out on the course as the last rider, even if the pools of water had far from disappeared.
“We were only informed right at start that there’d be puddles of water. I’m not sure if it was bad communication from guys who’d been on the course and didn’t tell the riders,” he said.
“I was told to just hold the handlebars really tight and go full gas through the big puddles of water. I didn’t have any problems. There were some parts with really bad tarmac so I just focused on keeping pedalling so I didn’t drop the chain.”
Meeting somewhere in the middle of the poles of opinion was Marc Hirschi, who won the U23 road race world title last year and is already a WorldTour pro with Team Sunweb.
“When there’s rain like today, with really wet parts, it’s pretty dangerous," said the Swiss rider. "I’d say for sure it was on the limit today, but what can you do? You have to go on. I think if they stopped it, it would even be a bigger mess.”
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