BMC Racing blamed Pais Vasco organisers for a crash in the final kilometre of stage 1 on Monday that took down several riders and sent the team's Peter Stetina to the hospital with fractures to his tibia, kneecap and four ribs.
The incident occurred about 500 metres from the finish when riders encountered a group of unprotected and mostly unmarked steel poles alongside the curb, said BMC team director Jackson Stewart.
“There were these four-foot high steel posts – I'm not sure what they're there for, maybe to separate bikes from cars or to keep people from parking along the curb,” Stewart told Cyclingnews after visiting Stetina in the hospital.
“They decided to just put those orange street cones on top of them, and that's how they were trying to mark them,” Stewart continued. “In the last kilometres when everyone is hugging the right side of the road and just the first guys get through the cone, for sure somebody is going to hit it. I was pretty shocked that they could actually even think that was going to work.”
Stewart said Stetina was about 30 riders back in the peloton when several riders in front of him hit one of the poles and Stetina followed.
“He just slammed it,” Stewart said. “From what I hear he somersaulted over it and then landed on another one. They were kind of in succession. It was a totally unfortunate crash.”
Stetina commented on the crash in a statement released by the team: "Some guys barely missed the poles and some clipped them," Stetina said. "I didn't even have time to react or pull the brakes. You don't expect to have fixed obstacles in the middle of a field sprint."
Team leader Tejay van Garderen pulled no punches when assessing blame for the late-race melee.
“In my opinion that was completely the fault of the organisation,” van Garderen told Cyclingnews. "There were poles in the road that weren't very clearly marked. It was pretty unfortunate. It's kind of a downer right now.”
BMC's Darwin Atapuma was also caught up in the crash, but the Colombian was able to get up and ride across the finish line. Stetina was not so lucky, however, and an initial examination revealed a broken right tibia and patella and four broken ribs. BMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Max Testa said the normal recovery time from an injury of this type is several months. Stetina, a 27-year-old California resident, will likely miss the Tour of California in May, among other races.
"The Amgen Tour of California was my big goal and my GC race this year," Stetina said. "Now it is almost for sure out the window."
Stewart told Cyclingnews the first thing Stetina asked him in the hospital was whether he would be able to return in time for the California race.
“I was like, 'I don't think so,'” Stewart said.
The team director said riders face enough dangers in races without having to contend with easily preventable incidents, which he believes was the case during Monday's finish.
“You saw the crashes in Flanders and you saw [Taylor] Phinney's crash,” Stewart said, referring to two incidents in Sunday's Tour of Flanders involving a neutral support car, and also to Phinney's crash last year at the US pro championships, when he smashed into a guardrail after swerving to avoid a race moto.
“It's just consistent with the dangers the guys face,” Stewart said. “It's dangerous enough. It's just crazy that they would even let these simple things happen. Those inner-city finishes are already pretty dangerous with all the elements. Why they didn't have a hay bale or some barriers to force the riders around it. I'm not sure what they were thinking.”