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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) wanted to race stage 5 of the Tour of Oman on Saturday despite the peloton’s protest over extreme temperatures.
Canceling the stage deprived him of precious training miles and his chance to win the overall classification, he said.
“What’s safe to ride in and what’s not safe to ride in. … There definitely needs to be some sort of standard,” Van Garderen told VeloNews.
“We’ve ridden though some gnarly stuff in the past. Whether or not yesterday. … Well, I won’t go there. I’m trying to be politically correct.”
Van Garderen finished the Tour of Oman Sunday in second place at nine seconds behind Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), the same position he held when the race finished on Green Mountain on Friday.
He said after Green Mountain that it would be difficult to overthrow Valls, but Saturday’s stage from Al Sawadi Beach to the Ministry of Housing in Oman’s capital city of Muscat would have provided the opportunity for him to try.
The final closing circuit featured the Al Bousher climb and its steep descent, which cyclists have successfully used in previous editions of the Tour of Oman to break free.
Van Garderen could have sensed something brewing when he woke up Saturday morning at the Millennium Resort with the palm trees waving wildly in the wind. The gusts had kicked up overnight and whipped across the Arabian Peninsula, and by the time the 138 cyclists arrived for the start in Al Sawadi Beach they were facing a sandstorm.
Organizer Eddy Merckx met with the local backers. They agreed to move the stage start to Muscat and race the circuits only. There, however, the delays and 100-degree heat took their toll.
On the first descent, while the race was still neutralized, tires began exploding. Cyclists blamed the increased braking and hot rims for the incidents. Van Garderen and others said that the punctures were limited to the Italian Bardiani-CSF team.
After the descent, they stopped and discussed the situation. Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step) said, “No one wants to put their lives at stake.” After an argument among Merckx and others, including Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, and Yoann Offredo, a debate that appeared more heated than the carbon wheels themselves, Merckx canceled the stage.
“Moving the race from the sandstorm in the beginning and going to the circuits was a very good call, and a call from the organization. The riders had nothing to do with that call. The organization was thinking purely about us,” van Garderen said.
“When you get tires exploding and glue coming off, then that’s a good signal that it’s not good to race, but that was one isolated team’s equipment malfunction, not an overall thing.
“It’s better we made the safe call, but I think everyone would’ve preferred to race. I would’ve liked to have the chance to try [to win] even if would’ve been hard to try to drop [Valls] on that climb, but it’s not worth risking your life for.”
That missed opportunity could soon be forgotten as the WorldTour resumes with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
But in response to the issues in Oman and elsewhere, the UCI is drafting an extreme-weather protocol for organizers to refer to when conditions deteriorate.
Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling) won the final stage Sunday on Muscat’s seafront below the old town and beside the Sultan’s Al Said super yacht in the harbor. Afterward the cyclists went immediately to the airport. Van Garderen was bound for his base in Nice, France, where he planned to make up for lost time.
“I wanted to get some good racing in the legs before going to goals like Paris-Nice and the rest of the season,” he said.
“In terms of power, it was probably going to be the hardest stage of the week, even if not the most selective for the GC. That means I’m going to have to train a little bit more at home.”