Race to the Snow?

Mont Brouilly - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Rowe Luke (GBR / Team Sky) - Koen De Kort (Netherlands / Team Giant - Alpecin)  Race cancelled because bad weather - snow - dangerous illustration - sfeer - illustratie Illustration picture of the peloton Landscape Bunch Postcard  during the stage 3 of the 74th Paris - Nice cycling race, a stage of 168 kms with start in Cusset and finish in Mont Brouilly, France  - photo VK/PN/or Vos © 2016

Riding through the snow at Paris-Nice (Cor Vos)

What exactly is the Extreme Weather Protocol?

Stage three of Paris-Nice saw the UCI’s new Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP) put into use for the first time at a major race. The 165km stage from Cusset to Mont Brouilly was halted for good after 93km, having been neutralised some 20km earlier with the intention of restarting at 40km to go.

The reason was, of course, the heavy snow falling – conditions that made any form of safe racing impossible. With several similar incidents affecting races over the last few years it was refreshing to see decisive action taken with rider safety in mind, despite the predictable outcry from some fans harking back to the days of Hampsten and Hinault.

Milano-Sanremo was famously halted due to snow in 2013, before racing resumed with 145km to go. The following year saw more confusing outcomes when the weather turned bad, with snow on the Stelvio during a controversial Giro stage, and the peloton weaving through fallen trees at a wind-swept stage of the Tour de Pologne.

There are many more examples to cite, and all have contributed to the introduction of this new rule. It has been over a year since it was first seriously mooted, partly thanks to the efforts of the Association of North American Pro Road Cyclists (ANAPRC).

So, now that the EWP is here, what exactly does the regulation entail? You can find a copy of the rule on the UCI website. It’s a pretty simple document, certainly when compared to the rough proposals we have heard about before – the ANAPRC once proposed specific cutoff temperatures that would trigger a plan B, for instance.

In essence, the regulation stipulates that a meeting between the major stakeholders (members of the organisation such as doctors and commissaires, as well as rider and team representatives) must be convened if extreme weather conditions are anticipated during the day’s stage. The conditions in question include:

weather conditions

Other weather conditions will also be considered – these are examples given by the regulation. In the event of conditions such as these, any of the following actions will be considered:

actions

The remainder of the regulation is concerned with defining who comprises the ‘stakeholders’, followed by an interesting footnote which specifies that the rule will be applied in accordance with article 2.2.029bis.

2.2.029bis mentions that the EWP will be enforced in WorldTour and HC-ranked races, but makes no mention of women’s races or .1 and .2 ranked races. However, last month we saw the EWP debut at the Clásica de Almería, so it seems possible that the regulation will be applied at all levels.

It’s a very simple piece of legislation, perhaps overly so. Sure, there’s a meeting before the race to discuss potential action, but what happens in the event of a sudden change in conditions (as we saw in Poland)? One presumes that further conversations between the noted parties take place as the situation develops – but then isn’t that how things have always been?

Additionally, there is no mention of what would happen should all parties be unable to reach a consensus over how to proceed with the race. To give one hypothetical – organisers of smaller races could be keen to push ahead in borderline conditions as riders object.

Then there’s the question of how feasible the proposed actions actually are. Actions such as modifying and rerouting the course can sometimes be impossible, especially at such short notice. Does this mean that races will have backup routes and alternative finishes in place? It’s unlikely given the organisational burden, but again it’s another detail that isn’t mentioned.

Martello/Martelltal - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - illustratie on the Stelvio Climb - left with green helmet Wilco Kelderman (Ned - Belkin-Pro Cycling Team) pictured during Giro-D'Itaia 2014 stage 16 from Ponte di Legno - Val Martello/Martelltal 139km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2014

Miserable conditions on the Stelvio during the 2014 Giro d’Italia (Cor Vos, also header image)

As with all new rules, the beginnings will always be somewhat shaky. In Almería there was misunderstanding over the period of neutralisation, while at Paris-Nice there were complaints about the lack of an alternate route, as well as the tardiness in making a decision about the race.

Despite these teething problems the rule is a good start. Finally introducing an entry to the rulebook is a positive step to introduce some accountability and ensure rider safety. Surely over time the EWP will be fleshed out to avoid the impromptu decision-making we continue to see and further improve the sport. It’s an issue that will always be mired in argument but headway is being made.

 

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