How extreme weather protocols will impact the 2016 worlds in Qatar

It’s just under a year to the start of the UCI road world championships in Doha, Qatar. Those championships will be held later than usual, running between October 9 to 16, in a bid to ensure that the scorching temperatures of the region have settled down somewhat when compared to…

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It’s just under a year to the start of the UCI road world championships in Doha, Qatar. Those championships will be held later than usual, running between October 9 to 16, in a bid to ensure that the scorching temperatures of the region have settled down somewhat when compared to the usual late-September timeslot.

However, as was seen with the recent Abu Dhabi Tour, there is always a degree of variability in expected weather patterns. Temperatures in that race were considerably hotter than anticipated, with stage one exceeding 45 degrees Celsius in the desert. This was one of the reasons why that day’s race was shortened.

Given concerns that the riders competing in the 2016 worlds could face some extremely tough conditions – something that would be exacerbated by the length of the elite races plus the fact that junior and under 23 riders could also be exposed – CyclingTips contacted Luuc Eisenga, the managing director of the AIGCP.

This association represents the interests of professional cycling teams, and is thus one of the most important stakeholders in the sport.

Eisenga was asked for clarification as to where things stand at this point in time in relation to the Extreme Weather Protocol trialled by the UCI and others at this year’s Giro d’Italia.

“The protocol will come into effect in 2016,” he said, explaining that it is not officially functional at present, despite the Giro trial.

“The conclusion of one of the meetings [held on this] was that you cannot fix set parameters that do justice to the local situation.”

By that he means that there is no set temperature or weather condition that will automatically trigger a set action. Instead, the stakeholders will gather and seek to reach a consensus.

“It was decided that if one of the parties – the riders, the teams, the jury, the race organisers are preoccupied about the current conditions, then a meeting about it will take place.

“So, for example, if the riders want a discussion with the jury and with the organiser, it will take place.

“That is in line with what we have been doing as the AIGCP in the last years – to get good consensus between all the stakeholders.”

Giro d’Italia introduction

A number of days’ racing has been cancelled in recent years, usually due to extremely cold conditions. For example, stage 19 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia was called off for this reason. That year’s Milan-San Remo was also affected, with the race temporarily stopped due to heavy snowfall and riders driven to a new start point.

Some, including Tom Boonen, decided not to continue in the race. MTN-Qhubeka rider Gerald Ciolek was the ultimate winner.

During this year’s Tour of Oman difficult conditions occurred. Sandstorms, extreme temperatures and high winds on the penultimate stage combined to cause protests by the riders [pictured], and that stage’s eventual cancellation.

These plus other such examples were catalysts in the trial of an extreme weather protocol in this year’s Giro d’Italia. In announcing it, the UCI said there would be a ‘compulsory convening of a meeting between the stakeholders (organisation including race doctor and chief of security, riders, teams, President of the Commissaires Panel,) when extreme weather conditions are anticipated prior to the start of a stage.’

It added that the meeting could be called by any one of those representatives, echoing what Eisenga told CyclingTips this week.

The UCI detailed some of the extreme weather conditions that could lead to such a meeting, with these including freezing rain, snow accumulation on the road, strong winds, extreme temperatures, poor visibility and air pollution.

Once such a meeting was held, it said that the following could be then agreed upon:

– No action
– Modification of the start venue
– Modification of the start time
– Modification of the finish venue
– Use of an alternative course
– Neutralization of a section of the stage/race
– Cancellation of the stage/race

According to Eisenga, the race organiser has a binding civil responsibility and, therefore, has the right to cancel a race if it deems that to be necessary. The other stakeholders don’t have the same power to dictate a cancellation but, he said, they can still drive for a decision.

“What we are really pushing for is a good consensus between all parties…that is the way forward.”

As the extreme weather protocol doesn’t officially come into being until next season, Eisenga was guarded when asked if it could have led to any one of this year’s Abu Dhabi Tour stages being changed or cancelled.

“That is an if question,” he answered. “Those questions are always very hard to answer.”

However, asked what his position was on next year’s world championships, he said that the AIGCP was aware of the possible difficulties that might arise.

“I cannot speak for the UCI or any others but obviously the safety and the health of the riders is always of major concern.”

UCI President Brian Cookson has also expressed similar sentiments.

The subject will likely be much more prominent next season once the protocol is up and running.

The Qatar worlds look destined to go ahead but, if the temperatures are anything like those that cooked the riders in Abu Dhabi, intense discussions could well take place about how to protect the competitors’ safety.

It’s the UCI’s flagship event and one it will be paid a lot of money by Qatar to run. Changing the race programme to shorten or reschedule events would undoubtedly bring complications and possible embarrassment. But so too would any extreme adverse reactions to the heat, particularly by younger riders.

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