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.

 

What is Peter Sagan capable of?


Going by his career thus far it seems as though barely anything is out of bounds for this young prodigy. His surprise win in Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday, on a stage where most expected the finish to be contested by the like of Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali, saw the 22-year-old all-rounder came through to take the win ahead of Roman Kreuziger and teammate Vincenzo Nibali.

With this in mind, lets take a look at what Sagan has achieved so far, and what he could do in future.

Hills

We already know what he can do in what most people see as his favourite terrain – short sharp hills. In 2010, he burst onto the scene at Paris-Nice, beating Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador into Aurillac after the short sharp Côte de la Martinie. Good placings towards the end of the year in the Giro del Veneto, Giro della Romagna and GP de Montréal confirmed this promise, and last year his domination at the Tour de Pologne erased any doubt that he would be a star of the future on hilly terrain.


Sprinting

His sprinting talent is clear for all to see. From the points classification in his first Paris-Nice and his stage wins at the Tour of California over the past two years, to his victories in the Vuelta last year, his immense talent in this discipline has been obvious for some time. However, we have yet to see him prevail against the likes of Greipel and Cavendish in a flat-out sprint. With Milan-San Remo fast approaching, maybe we won’t have to wait long.

Time Trialing

This often tends to be overlooked by people when they talk about Sagan’s talent. So far he has shown that he is a good time trialist, certainly good enough to place in the top 30 or so on mid-length efforts. He has already proven this with consistent placings in the 20-35km time trials he has done so far – 29th at Romandie 2010, 17th at California 2010, 14th at California 2011, and 27th at Suisse 2011.

Sagan has, however, proven more talented at shorter TTs and prologues (as one would expect from a sprinter). Last year’s podium finish in the Tour de Suisse 7.3km TT and his showings at the same race and Paris-Nice one year earlier prove this. So far then, it looks as if hilly week-long stage races will be his playground in the future.


Cobbles

We haven’t really had much to go on so far in his professional career. At junior Paris-Roubaix in 2008 he finished runner-up to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s now neo-pro Andrew Fenn, so there is certainly some promise in this area. Last year he made it to the end of his first ever men’s Paris-Roubaix, finishing in 86th place. We will have to wait and see how he progresses in this discipline, but the potential is certainly there.

Climbing

Last, but not least we come to climbing. In 2010, we got a taste of his climbing ability when he stuck with the lead group on the climbing stage to Big Bear Lake and then won the sprint – this on a day when Boonen, Bos, Haedo, Cavendish, Renshaw and Chicchi all failed to finish or missed the time cut. While this stage wasn’t as strenuous a mountain-top finish as we see in the Grand Tours, it still showed that he could climb mountains as well as hills.

On the Tour de Suisse stage to Grindewald last year, Sagan put in yet another shock performance, hanging in with the lead group over the cols, before putting in a fantastic descent, and winning the stage. In the process beating riders such as the Grand Tour winners Damiano Cunego and Danilo Di Luca, as well as the Schleck brothers and climber Juan Mauricio Soler.

So there is no doubt that he has some talent when it comes to the big mountains too. However, tomorrow he will find himself in an entirely new position. Sagan is in 4th place on the Tirreno-Adriatico GC, surrounded by some of the world’s premium mountain climbing talent – names such as Horner, Kreuziger, Di Luca, Nibali, Rodriguez, Scarponi and Garzelli. This is the first time he will find himself going into a mountain stage with a GC place to fight for.

The final mountain is a tough one to race up this early in the season, with a 6.9% average, including a short section of 12% towards the beginning. This is the big test of Peter Sagan’s climbing ability, and while it sounds absurd to be judging a rider already at the age of 22, the result of the stage might give us some idea of whether this guy could be someone who can contend in pretty much any kind of race.

Conclusion

Peter Sagan can already be considered as one of the best all-rounders in today’s peloton, and to achieve what he has done already, at such a young age, is quite incomprehensible. But there will certainly be more to come. With his talents for sprinting and climbing hills, races like the World Championships, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the points classifications at Grand Tours should one day be well within his grasp.

We haven’t seen him properly tested on the cobbles yet, but he seems like the type of rider that could go well at a hilly cobbled classic such as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. And how about Grand Tour GC aspirations? He isn’t currently the type of rider that one would expect to be fighting for the overall win at the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, but with so much talent it’s hard to rule anything out.

Today could give us an idea of just how many strings this amazing young talent has in his bow.