STATELINE, Nevada (VN) — Oh, the weather outside is frightful — too much so for even a shortened stage one of the Amgen Tour of California, organizers decided at the last minute.
Organizers at first trimmed the course to 80km, covering the second half of the original route — around the west side of Lake Tahoe to the Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort via the Emerald Bay and Brockway Summit KOMs — and moved the start time to 1:15 Pacific time.
The California Department of Transportation salted the road around Tahoe for the first time in decades, and word from the KOMs was that the roads were wet but not icy.
But the weather kept shifting from sunny to cloudy, dry to wet, clear to snowing, and after some heated debate at the start line among race directors and organizers, the plug was pulled just 30 seconds from the scheduled start.
Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, told VeloNews that organizers “had 50 meetings in the last three days about the weather and our various contingency plans.”
“We had a lot of conversations with teams, riders and medical personnel to design a stage with racing that would be safe. That plan changed with updated information,” he added. “At 6 a.m. we decided it was inappropriate for riders to ride the full stage. We gave ourselves more time and when we made that delay we understood we would need meaningful improvement in the weather.”
When that didn’t happen, he said: “Based on our interactions and conversations with medical staff, teams, riders and operations guys all over the course, our conclusion was it’s not safe. We waited to the last minute to give ourselves the best information possible.
“The correct decision was not particularly hard to make, but it was disappointing for everyone.”
The decision, however belated, must have come as good news to the peloton.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wasn’t excited about racing in the wintry conditions, but had accepted organizers’ decision to run a reduced race. Neither Danny Pate nor Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) would comment, though both appeared unhappy at the news. The BMC squad spent the morning in preparation, assuming that the race would go on.
And RadioShack’s Jason McCartney spoke out against the decision to race, expressing frustration that the call wasn’t made earlier in the day.
Others made their feelings known via Twitter:
• mattgoss1986: Cannot believe that the TOC is going to make us race in -2 degrees and snow with -9 wind chill factor, come on guys!
• taylorphinney Morabito has rubber scuba diving arm warmers on.
• Michael_Creed I feel like I’m on a boat about to land on the beach of normandy.
• mikefriedman2 Its on, 1:15, I can’t. ***K*** Wait!
The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for the area, warning of “slick and hazardous roads.” The bulk of the snow was expected to fall before 11 a.m. with scattered snow showers continuing throughout the afternoon.
The NWS was predicting 2-4 inches below 7,000 feet and as much as 8 inches near the Sierra Crest.
“Part of what Lake Tahoe brings to the Amgen Tour is the alpine environment,” said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
“We’ve seen storms predicted for three feet that miss us. When the stars came out last night, I was hoping the stars would align for us.”
Apparently not. And while three-time winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) appreciated everyone’s disappointment, he said safety was the paramount consideration:
“The riders discussed as a group and we just don’t feel comfortable riding knowing what can happen, especially in light of what happened last Monday,” he said.
“We still have a full week of racing ahead of us, so we want to make sure everyone is healthy. With the weather conditions the way they are, racing today is just not possible. On behalf of all the riders, we apologize and appreciate everyone’s support and understanding.”
• One final note: Race director Jim Birrell told The Sacramento Bee that six race officials on motorcycles crashed along the west shore of Lake Tahoe but without serious injuries. The moto drivers, who were said to have been transferring to the finish area after the stage was canceled, were taking shelter in a firehouse along the race route.
A Brian Holcombe gallery:
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, thin film of slush
Plows took the snow down to a thin film of slick slush. Photo: Brian Holcombe
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, snowy roads
A California State Parks officer said that Highway 89 would normally be closed under these conditions. Photo: Brian Holcombe
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, snowfall
Snow was falling at a rate of a quarter inch per hour, with the temperature at 22 Fahrenheit atop the Emerald Bay KOM at 6:45 a.m. Photo: Brian Holcombe
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, low on Emerald Bay KOM
Roads were wet, but not frozen, until two miles from the summit of the Emerald Bay KOM at 6:30 a.m. Photo: Brian Holcombe
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, intermediate descent at Emerald Bay
This descent leads riders from the first summit to the base of the KOM ramp atop Emerald Bay. Photo: Brian Holcombe
A Casey B. Gibson gallery:
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, wet descent
One of the wet, winding descents that will make things dangerous this afternoon. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, snowy South Lake Tahoe
A beautiful snowy day in downtown South Lake Tahoe. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, photo op'
If the race goes, there will be some spectacular photos. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, V-v-v-v-Velo-News
Looks like it will be a cold day for the VeloNews crew. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, KBS and TT1
Kelly Benefits and Team Type 1 in the parking lot, waiting for word of the race. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, Emerald Bay KOM
The view down from the Emerald Bay KOM at 10 a.m. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, happy campers
Yes, they camped near the Emerald Bay KOM. In the snow. At 20 degrees. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
2011 Amgen Tour, stage 1, Bissell cars
Bissell cars snowed in this morning. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com