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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

The Scott Sunderland Diary 2004

Racing to the sun in Paris-Nice

Stage 4 - March 10: Roanne - Le Puy-en-Velay, 179 km

Snow race today

Well you know the story by now - the fourth stage today was cancelled because of the snow. First of all they shortened it and in the end we started and rode about 35 km neutral. When we stopped after 35 km and cut out first two climbs, that's when they made the decision. It was -4 up the top of the Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort, it was snowing, and it was wet from the salt on the roads. There wasn't much of a descent either - we were looking at staying up there for 60-70 km before dropping down to the finishing altitude.

Then it was a case of trying to fit all of us into two team cars: eight riders, two directors, two mechanics and the bikes. Lucky we weren't too wet. We had to call the campervan, which had gone to the hotel, to drive back and meet us of the freeway. We had a nice 5 or 6 hours between hotels, which wasn't really thoroughly relaxing. We got here, got something to eat, had a massage and lay on the bed a bit to see what tomorrow will bring.

It's always a hard call, but when we started it was -2. It wasn't bad standing still but when you got moving it was freezing. We set off into a headwind and the wind chill factor was unbelievable. I had on two pairs of shoe covers, a long sleeve thermal undershirt, a short sleeve undershirt, my short sleeve racing shirt, a thermal body warmer, a goretex rain jacket, two pairs of gloves, and a headband under my head warmer under my helmet...

I've trained in Belgium when it's like this and you can do it - get outside for two or three hours and just ride. But you can't go that hard because your body can't breathe with all the gear you've got on and your lungs tighten up with cold air. Here we're trying to race and it's a different story.

It's a bit of a disappointment but it's really funny. I've been doing this for 15 years and you always get these conditions. It's all possible to do, but it becomes a fine line between being hard and being stupid. Even skiing competitions have a minimum and maximum conditions. In cycling we don't really have that.

The teams have gotten a lot more professional too. There are teams and riders who have prepared for the classics and this could affect that. I'm not saying that Paris-Nice isn't good enough, just that there's more races on after this day. It was the same with Het Volk and Kuurne.

The general feeling in the peloton is "we shouldn't be doing this" even though none of the riders came out and said "no". In other years, organisers would be upset, team directors would be putting pressure on the riders to continue, but now they're starting to realise that it's beyond a joke. We do 100-110 race days a season so one less is OK. What's the use of riding on a day like today? You can get sick and also get tendonitis in this sort of weather.

It was a good call from Jean-Marie Leblanc and very professional, taking us into consideration, to do this.

More snow forecast

This evening it's snowing again. We've got 3-4cm on the cars and we are at 600m. Tomorrow we're supposed to be going up to 1,100m after 15 km. At 91 km at the second mountain sprint, we're just on 940m. I'm just speculating, but they'll probably take us to the feed zone after about 120 km. That way we can still get 100 km of the race and do the second cat. climb. It's just the first 105 km is not going to be that great to do. We start and then we're up on a plateau for a long time. With all this snowfall, I don't see it happening.

At least they've got a bit of time before tomorrow. This weather wasn't really forecast, but that's nature, nothing you can do about it. It's still winter. It's 3 weeks before De Panne, which also gets snowed out sometimes.

We'll see if we can get some kilometres in tomorrow. That's what we're here for.

Stage 4 report