• Howard wins in miserable conditions and odd circumstances (AAP)Source: AAP
Australian Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling) braved brutal conditions on a test run of the 2017 UCI Road World Championships circuit to win Stage 1 after confusion reigned at finish at Tour des Fjords.
Cycling Central

1 Sep 2016 - 11:19 AM 

After racing the first 129 kilometres of the 146 kilometre stage in pouring rain, a missing sign inside the closing 23km circuit caused confusion for the peloton as they headed down a tunnel before being stopped and turned around. Unfortunately, a few riders had continued and gotten back onto the course with an advantage on the peloton, including Howard, team-mate Roger Kluge and Jesper Asselmann (Roompot-Oranje Peloton).

They worked hard together to stay clear and Howard emerged the winner in Bergen as he out-sprinted Asselmann convincingly to take the win.

After the finish, Geelong-local Howard was clearly not comfortable with how the race unfolded.

“To be honest, I expected the commissaire to neutralise the race,” said Howard following his second win of the season, with his first at Clasica de Almeria in February. “But he didn’t, and you don’t stop just to stop. We had an advantage and we took it, but it’s strange.”

“Frankly, I don’t want to lounge on this success today.  I just have to highlight the incredible work that Roger Kluge did in the final. I was extremely happy to have him with me. And now we have to demonstrate the strength of the team for the rest of the event through till Sunday.”

“It is understandable there would be some angry riders,” he said. “I’m happy, but it takes away some of the feeling as it’s not the same to win like that.”

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) renowned hard man of the peloton and clear favourite for the stage and race overall wasn’t pulling any punches following the finish.

”I won the intermediate sprint and there was no breakaway in front of us. We came to a tunnel and the motorbike in front of us went straight, then he stopped because he had gone the wrong way.

“We turned around and I thought there would be a re-start, because we had been taken the wrong way through the tunnel and we were all together so it would be easy to do. But some went through the tunnel and took a short cut to the right and immediately had 30-seconds on us.

“The race was not neutralized even though the rest of us went back to go the right way. They kept the advantage all the way to the finish line.”

 ”To me this is a disappointing situation. I cannot believe we did not re-start all together, because that’s how we were when the mistake was made. There were no signs, no cars, noone showing us which way to go.”

Race director Roy Hegreberg was hounded by team directors and media after the finish and admitted that the city has a lot to learn when it comes to hosting an event of this size with the 2017 Road World Championships set to compete on the same circuit next year.

“We just have to apologise,” said Hegreberg.  “This is something that cannot happen, especially when they are testing the route of the world championships. They promised us 200 people to help with traffic control and we were provided just 175, and this cannot happen again.

“But Leigh Howard can hold his head high as he raced hard today and he deserves the win,” he added. “The other guys now have four days to make up for lost time.”

With the win, Howard also assumes the race leader’s yellow jersey, as well as the blue points jersey with four days remaining in the five-stage 2.1-rated race.

“I’m going to try to defend the yellow jersey,” said Howard. “It’s possible, but it will be very hard to keep it on my shoulders for five days.”

Is the 2017 Worlds in trouble?

The peloton being directed the wrong way aside, there were several other examples of organiser incompetence at the race. Firstly, the race's twitter handle appears to be so farcical, that at Cycling Central, we had to double check that it wasn't a fake account. The hashtag for the race also appears to be one used regularly by local escorts.

They also don't have a picture for their account, maybe a minor complaint but when you stack up all the examples of poor organisation you have to question their ability to host one of the biggest events on the cycling calendar.

They did manage to keep things humourous, but that's very much something you do after ensuring that you have a race that works.

Another question is why the race wasn't neutralised by the chief commissaire once it was clear to all and sundry that a number of riders had taken, albeit accidentally an unfair advantage?

Race director Hegreberg was pressed on whether the time gaps would stand and said he would talk with officials to see if any time gaps caused by course error would be neutralised.

“We want this to be a fair race, and if something goes wrong we do not want the riders to suffer for it,” Hegreberg said.

If swift action had been taken instead of allowing the farcical stage end, action like this wouldn't be required.

Perhaps the most egregious lapse in organising was failing to keep traffic off the course, which saw riders having to pick their way through buses and cars on the final circuit.