On the day before the cyclo-cross world championships, the course in Sankt-Wendel, Germany, was considered to be too dangerous because of the multiple, frozen mud ruts. The UCI decided to flatten out several sections in order to improve the safety of the riders.
One day into the weekend of racing, there's still plenty of criticism about the course, which has been as slippery as an ice rink. While the sub-surface layer of soil is still frozen, the top layer has softened up, making it tough for the riders to find traction.
UCI off-road discipline manager Peter Van den Abeele is in charge of the competitive side of the cyclo-cross world championships. A former Belgian cyclo-cross champion, Van den Abeele was annoyed with the criticism concerning the last minute changes that were made to the course.
"Whatever we do, there will always be guys criticizing it. If we would have left the course like it was, it could have been dangerous for the riders," said Van den Abeele. "Now it turns out that by smoothing out the ruts, the course is very slippery.
"Some team leaders in the pit area - I won't tell their names - were telling me that it is alright because we're talking about 'cross here. Others are blaming me as it would be a disadvantage for their riders. I choose to stand on the side of all riders," Van den Abeele said.
One remarkable section of the course is a small, muddy off-camber rise on which dozens of junior riders slipped almost every time past.
"We didn't do much over there as it looked alright on Friday. But tonight, there have been low temperatures and this morning the sun was shining on that spot with the lack of grip as the outcome," Van den Abeele said.
The weather conditions may well turn out to be a key factor in this year's world championships. Due to these conditions, the junior men's race was much faster than the under 23 men's race although these riders are typically much stronger.
The course conditions make Sunday's race outcome all the more unpredictable. The elite men and elite women will be even more nervous than usual to found out how the course will ride for their most important race of the year.
There is some concern about whether a German TV quad will accompany racers on a certain section of the course. In 2007, a Belgian TV quad took out favorites Bart Wellens and Sven Nys, and ever since, the UCI has forbidden the presence of these vehicles in cyclo-cross races.
"Since then, the quad has been forbidden. The German TV was aware of this UCI rule but apparently they figured they could do it anyway. I'm the responsible on behalf of the UCI for the sporting side of affairs, so I'm on the side of the riders. I asked them about it, and they didn't want it," Van den Abeele said.
Clearly some top cyclo-cross riders are more nervous about this race than the UCI race in Asteasu, in which the local Spanish TV media covered a part of the race by quad. Van den Abeele said he didn't know about this.
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