Teething problems as Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta expands to three days

Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb) sprints to the line
Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb) sprints to the line for win on stage 1 (Image credit: Getty Images)

2020 was the first year the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta expanded to three days, adding a stage before the Saturday time trial and Sunday's laps on the Paseo in Madrid. However, this first stage did not go swimmingly as the peloton found itself off course about halfway through the race. Additionally, the lack of a live broadcast made it very hard to follow the action.

Unlike stages 2 and 3, which have been established as a time trial and a sprint stage for some years, the exact nature of the stage 1 parcours was unknown until four days before the race when the race organisers released details, confirming that it would be a rolling stage of 82.9km from Toledo to Escalona with an uphill finish.

At the same time, however, it was also announced that only part of the race would be broadcast live. The UCI regulations for Women's WorldTour races demand a live broadcast at least 45 minutes for each day of racing, but only stage 3 was to have a live broadcast.

Cyclingnews understands that the host broadcaster, RTVE, reneged on a commitment to broadcast all three days, intending to only broadcast the final stage. In addition, the race organisers had since been working with the UCI to secure a live broadcast, succeeding to line up a livestream for the stage 2 time trial.

The Giro Rosa has been demoted from Women's WorldTour status for 2021 due to its lack of live broadcast as well as other issues including rider safety, but Cyclingnews understands that the Madrid Challenge is not likely to face a similar demotion as the race organisers have been striving to meet the required standards.

Without live footage, and with updates from the race being scarce, it was at times hard to follow the action on stage 1. The most striking example of this was when, 36km into the stage and with Mireia Benito (Massi-Tactic) the lone leader 40 seconds ahead of the peloton, the race was halted as it had gone off the planned course.

After a few minutes of sorting things out, the race was restarted with the 40-second gap intact. However, due to a lack of mobile network coverage in the area the race was passing through, this information took almost half an hour to get out.

After the race, Benito explained the situation in a posting on social media, laying no blame for the deviation at the organisers' feet. "I want to make it clear that the signage was correct," she wrote. 

"At the time, I was leading the race and I did not look at the signs, I was simply following the motorcycles that were leading the race. There was a moment of hesitation and we took the wrong turn followed by the rest of the peloton. It was human error, the organization has acted correctly, leaving the 40-second advantage over the peloton again, and in the end, it has been resolved without consequences."

Cyclingnews has reached out to the organisers of the Madrid Challenge, Unipublic, for comment and they confirmed that they had some uncertainty surrounding whether the event would be able to go ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected their ability to confirm live television coverage on stage 1.

"For a while we had a lot of uncertainty about the possibility of organizing the race due to the pandemic context. That’s why we released so late all the race details and information. Unfortunately, by the time we confirmed we would be able to organize the race, we weren’t able to book and coordinate an adequate aerial support for the live broadcast of the race," confirmed the event's communication officer, Laura Cueto.

"Live on Facebook [for stage 2] is produced with a ground TV production crew. The perimeter of the circuit allows us to produce a live broadcast on social media without aerial support, which was not the case on stage 1."

Asked about the riders deviation off course during the opening stage 1, organisers confirmed that strong crosswinds affected the signs on route. They also confirmed that riders were stopped after roughly a one-kilometre deviation, and it took 10 minutes to get back on track.

"As you might have seen on the race summary there were a lot of crosswinds yesterday and unfortunately we think that some of the panels indicating the route flew away. We’re not saying that’s an excuse for what happened, but that’s the main reason for the race deviation."

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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.