Races at Road World Championships might be cut short by Qatar heat
Cycling's governing body the UCI has admitted high temperatures could lead to races at next week's Road World Championships in Qatar being drastically reduced in length.
This is despite already putting the event back to its latest ever date - three weeks later than last year's championships - to avoid Qatar's brutal September heat.
With temperatures forecast to reach 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital city Doha, the UCI has set up a four-man panel to assess the conditions before each of the 12 events over the week's racing.
Using "thermal stress indicators" and precise forecasts, these four experts, three of whom are based at Qatar's Aspetar sports science centre, will decide if any of the events need to be shortened with input from the presidents of the UCI's athletes' commission and commissaires panel.
If they decide to implement cycling's "extreme weather protocol", which was introduced this year to bring some common sense to decisions on whether riders should race through the snow in the mountains or sandstorms in the desert, the men's road race on October 16 could be more than halved in distance.
Currently, the race is supposed to comprise of a 151km loop through the desert to the north of Doha, before returning to the city to complete seven 15.3km laps of the Pearl, an artificial island off the city's West Bay that is home to skyscrapers, five-star hotels and luxury shopping malls.
If it is too hot, however, that desert loop will be dropped, turning what should be one of the hardest one-day challenges of the season at 257.3km into a short race on a city circuit already infamous for its 24 roundabouts.
The women's race on Saturday is meant to be a 28km ride through Doha before seven laps of the Pearl but extreme heat could see the number of those laps cut, with similar reductions made for the age-group road races and time trials.
This would be embarrassing for a UCI that is determined to push what it calls "the globalisation of cycling", as well as raising fresh concerns about the wealthy Arab state's suitability as a venue for world-class outdoor sport.
Many fans of the sport have already criticised the decision to host one of the season's highlights in a country with no obvious interest in the sport as a spectacle and some riders have raised concerns about it being a boring race if the wind fails to blow, as that tends to be the only challenge when riding in this part of the Middle East.
Football's World Cup, of course, is heading to Qatar in 2022 but has been moved out of its traditional summer slot to November and December to coincide with the country's most manageable temperatures, although it can still hit 30 degrees Celsius in November.
Britain's Lizzie Deignan, nee Armitstead, will be defending her world title in Qatar on Saturday, October 15, while compatriot Mark Cavendish is aiming to add a second world title to his superb CV in the men's race.