Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Cycling too dangerous?

 Is pro cycling too hard?

David L. Stanley writes some great stuff for our friends at BikeRaceInfo. I think we share what the Giro d’Italia folks call amore infinito for La Corsa Rosa and I’d love to buy him a spritz on our beautiful Piazza Duomo should he ever visit Sicily. But some of his recent 2023 Giro d’Italia: Rest Day One is way off the back.

I agree 100% about the dangers of cars driven in the race caravan but David claims the UCI (and I assume by implication RCS, organizers of the Giro) views the riders as far-too-disposable assets, referring to the bad weather the Giro (and Italy) has faced recently. He points out that baseball games stop when it rains and implies that bicycle races should be held only on dry roads as well. He then goes on to claim motorsports don’t run in the rain, ignoring that MOTOGP - the fastest, scariest things on two wheels regularly DO race on wet tracks, their amazing rain tires allowing lean angles that astound anyone who has ever ridden a two-wheeler of any kind.

Is racing bicycles in this weather really that dangerous? Where he lives in Michigan it’s likely far different than in Italy. I lived for two decades in Iowa so I think I know what he’s writing about when it comes to the danger of thunderstorms and being struck by lightning where he lives, but I’ve also lived off and on in Italy for decades, including full-time in Sicily since late in 2018.

There’s no argument about the dangers of riding in thunderstorms anywhere, especially on the plains in midwestern USA, but in Italy, rain doesn’t always come with thunder and lightning – it’s just rain. At the Giro’s stage 5 this year my rain-jacket started leaking after being at both the start and finish in an almost constant drizzle. It also rained for part of stage 6, but just like stage 5 I never heard any claps of thunder or saw streaks of lightning, so stopping or shortening a stage even because of a serious downpour strikes me as an overreaction.

Same with wet, slippery roads. Modern road bikes are all equipped with disc brakes, which we are told provide secure, reliable braking in all conditions though the gawdawful squawking and squealing does seem the price one pays. Tires have also never been better they say, with road tubeless and specially crafted rubber compounds that promise secure grip in all conditions. If the forecast is for rain all day, wouldn’t the team mechanic fit their best rain tires since they no longer have to worry about tubular glue needing overnight to set up? These are the same folks I used to see laying a thick bead of white lithium grease onto a chain as bikes were prepped for a rainy stage, so maybe it’s even time for that not-so-aero but more forgiving bike or wheelset while they’re at it when bad weather is an all-day forecast? It’s not like spare bikes are unavailable should conditions change!

Then there’s the cold and rain itself. David doesn’t dwell on this too much, perhaps he’s just as aware of the magical properties attributed to modern cold/wet weather cycling gear sold at astronomical prices as I am? The days of sodden wool jerseys and vinyl rain capes that might keep the rain off while acting like a sauna inside are long gone, so why does a temperature still on the plus side
of freezing at the highest peak on the day's route cause so much whining and gnashing of teeth?

But more important than all this is what would have happened in 1910 if Alphonse Steines’ response to LeTour’s Henri Desgrange was: 

“Sorry old chap, we can’t bring the Tour over the Pyrenees. The roads are awful, there’s no cell phone coverage, the director’s car video screens will have no pictures and some people told me there are wild bears around. And it rains here…a lot! The UCI and the rider’s union will never let us do it.”

What would have happened if the UCI’s weather protocol was enforced that same year at Milano Sanremo, where only 4 riders of 63 entrants finished? Or in 1956 on Monte Bondone with Charly Gaul? 1988 on the snowy Passo Gavia with Andy Hampsten? 2013 on Tre Cime di Lavaredo with Vincenzo Nibali? By the way, we had clients there and they rode up part of the climb to Tre Cime in 2013 with CycleItalia's own Heather Reid. Yes, we had warm drinks and dry clothes for them when they arrived, but nothing like the warm bus and hot shower today's pros enjoy. Read more about it HERE.

We know what happened at LeTour in1996 when Riis raced to victory on the shortened stage where all the major climbs were driven-over with riders in the cars except for the final 46 kilometers. We know what happened at the Giro with the 2020 Abbiategrasso farce – one shortened not by any real danger, more that the riders were just tired and didn’t want to ride in the rain. Is this the future of pro cycling?

Most cycling TV broadcasts still feature some historical video, usually of heroic exploits done by legendary riders of the past, quite often in atrocious weather conditions, something road cyclists have been enduring since…well... there was road cycling. Where will tomorrow’s heroes, legends and exploits come from if weather protocols prevent racing under anything other than sunny skies with perfect road conditions?

Update: Friday's stage was supposed to be 208 kilometers into Switzerland via the fearsome Gran San Bernardo pass with a climb of Croix de Coeur and finish atop Crans Montana. A week before, Gran San Bernardo was scrapped over concerns about the road conditions on the descent, then the morning of the race the riders threatened a strike over being forced to ride in terrible conditions. The organizers caved, shortening the stage to just 80 kilometers, reminding many of the 1996 Tour farce. Many roadside fans gave the riders (inside their buses) a middle-finger salute as they drove out of Italy. 

Amazingly, reports of the road conditions on the descent (from the tunnel exit, the route they would have taken once GS Bernardo itself was scrapped) revealed nothing in the way of dangerous conditions. Nor were there dangerous conditions on the rest of the route. 

A lot like this from not too long ago? Will this ever stop?

In Zio Lorenzo's opinion the riders and their representatives were revealed to be whining babies who want the UCI's weather protocol changed to: "When the riders decide they don't want to ride for any reason, the stage shall be shortened or canceled. Nobody shall argue with them."

OK, but perhaps no more television images of the old days when it was real RACERS racing in the weather conditions they were dealt should be used to promote the sport, since they find just a forecast of bad weather unpleasant enough to threaten a strike?

David Stanley wrote a (sort of, I guess?) retort to Zio's post here. Rather than reply tit-for-tat to something that's far from one of his best columns for BikeRaceInfo here's the link so you can read it yourself. Rather than "throat-punch" him as he suggests for people like Zio I'd still buy him that spritz on the piazza, but his piece is just wrong, wrong, wrong as it seems clear he wants the Giro to be like the INDY 500, "a sunny day in May affair" exclusively. Zio thinks that would be a tragedy for road cycling far worse than someone hitting the deck on a wet road or getting really, really cold.

Sorry David.

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