MONARCH MOUNTAIN, Colorado (VN) — The high Colorado sun pushed the clouds away at the start of the third stage at the USA Pro Challenge in Gunnison on Wednesday, and Tuesday’s thunderstorm-induced neutralization was fading away with the morning’s dew.
The brief stoppage, which occurred on the descent into Crested Butte and about seven miles from the finish line, was originally supposed to come atop the muddy Kebler Pass. It ultimately did not play a huge role in the race, and the general classification sat, likely, where it would have been anyway. But there was something about it that just didn’t square with the peloton. Yet again this season, an attempt to neutralize a race had failed, though the peloton did stop as it headed into Crested Butte; at the Giro d’Italia, it didn’t seem like the leaders ever slowed down at all.
“I’m still trying to understand the logic of the decision that was taken,” Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers said. Rogers has been involved in the two aforementioned neutralizations, or lack thereof.
“To me it didn’t make sense to neutralize it, or stop the race. Because seeing we’d already passed the dangerous section. I can understand that without the radios it’s not easy to communicate the message. But also I think, once again, I said this at the Giro, we just need clear rules for extreme racing conditions. And I hope the UCI comes out with some rules saying, all right, above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or below X, and then the jury can make proper decisions. But with the ambiguous state that the current rule says, how can they make a decision?”
That much riders and directors can mostly agree on.
Racers are going to race regardless, and the sport’s promoters have contracts to honor and television schedules to consider. All of that results in pressure to have a race when, perhaps, a race should be altered.
“I honestly think there needs to be protocol that’s adopted universally,” said UnitedHealthcare’s Lucas Euser. “All the organizations that run our sport need to come together collectively to make sure there are proper protocols and measures that can be taken under extreme conditions.”
Road racing is a sport like no other; its arenas are streets and mountains, all under the canopy of weather. The flock of riders has different goals and ambitions, but singularly, they all want to finish. As fast as possible.
“We go forward. And we go forward fast. And we want to get to that finish line. And we’re hungry for the victory. And I understand under extreme conditions like [Monday’s] there’s some miscommunication and things got a little bit out of control,” Euser said. “But in the end everybody was on the same page. Everybody was doing the same thing. And I think the race organizers and the UCI commissaires did everything they could under the circumstances. And I think it was fair. I think that today we move on and we race our bikes again.”
Hincapie Sportswear Development rider Robin Carpenter parlayed the precious seconds of his break into a stage win, and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) moved closer to the lead, which he now holds. Van Garderen was annoyed at the stoppage at the time, but now he is taking a longer view.
“We wanted the stage win [Tuesday]. I’m not disappointed at all. I think it was an amazing ride by Carpenter,” said van Garderen, who won Wednesday’s stage 3. “But at the end of the day I can’t be too disappointed because in the end I was beaten by [Alex] Howes at the line anyways. I wasn’t out for revenge or anything. It was more like, ‘we’re just out to do our best.’”
The neutralization itself is a singular moment in the race, but one that’s connected to larger issues in the sport and a lack of standards.
“It just needs to be standardized. X meters above sea level, X degrees, raining. Race off. Because I really feel for the commissaires in a lot of situations,” Garmin-Sharp sport director Charly Wegelius said. “Because the rules, as they stand at the moment, leave so much open to interpretation.”
Furthermore, it’s not even clear what neutralization really means. Couple that with a lack of race radios — and even a failure of organizational radios, as occurred Monday — and it’s a looming issue in the middle of a surging bike race.
“Is it stopping? Is it not stopping? The whole thing about the red flags at the Giro. I don’t even think that’s in the rules. So they need to be clearer, and those decisions need to be made much more in advance,” Wegelius said. “Trying to stop a race at that stage — it’s like a herd of cattle. It’s just not going to happen. Also when the race is so split up like that, quantifying who’s behind is actually more important I think than who’s in front with the time gaps, because that’s really race-changing stuff.”
While most called for hard-and-fast rules, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies sport director Eric Wohlberg saw a need for some grey area, rather than black and white.
“The safest thing is to just let the guys race for the most part,” Wohlberg said. “If there’s a train wreck in front of them then you’ve got to stop the race, or if there’s lightning strikes on the side of the road, then you’ve got to do something about it. That weather was epic, you know, the riders will get themselves safely down the hill. They crash on beautiful, dry roads, too. On a shitty road like that they’re actually going to be pretty cautious.
“I think the rules — there’s a lot of grey areas in the rules and sometimes you just can’t have black and white. Hopefully the officials have the knowledge and personal experience of riding in those conditions as a rider to know what the guys can take and what they can’t take.”