There were a few topics of discussion at the end of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. The wind. The wind. The wind… and the win. The Belgian Classic was held in horrendous conditions and it claimed numerous victims. Only 39 made it to the end on a day when the weather forced riders to consider their options; safety over success was the view of many. According to Bernhard Eisel this was the time when a unified approach could have served the riders well but the Austrian believes that a rogue few behaved in a way that was detrimental to the peloton.
RIDE spoke with Eisel on the Monday morning after the contest and here is part of that exchange that outlines his views on racing in dangerous wind…
– Interview by Rob Arnold
*The Sky Files
Part 01: Richie Port on Catalunya
Part 02: Bernhard Eisel on Gent-Wevelgem
Part 03: Geraint Thomas on the Classics
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RIDE: While you’ve got Gent-Wevelgem fresh in your mind. Tell me about the wind. It looked extraordinary in photos. What was it like to ride through?
Bernhard Eisel: “I mean, it was… the whole thing was just stupid… I honestly rode five riders off the road because I couldn’t hold my bike anymore and people just crashed everywhere. So I said, ‘Stuff that.’ I had a meeting and then we stopped the race – neutralised it.’
“Other teams came back – because I was in the first echelon – and we said, ‘We can’t race here.’ We neutralised it, not the commissaire – the race director – he said on TV he didn’t do anything. And then…”
So it was an accord in the peloton?
“Yes. Yeah. I made the call and all riders agreed on it. We can’t race like that. And then we rode easy and all the riders came back, who had been in the third or fourth echelon, and then we saw Quickstep going to the front and started riding. It was like, ‘What are you doing?’ The breakaway had three minutes. ‘Let’s go easy and we stay safe.’ And they just started speeding up, speeding up. And then we came around the next corner and crashed off. Six guys of Quickstep on the ground.
“You can call that shit ‘Karma’.”
It looked like a spectacular crash and even Paolini, who won the race, got caught up in it.
“Yeah, everybody pretty much who was up there in the front crashed at least once.
“For the last three years, I’ve flown at least 30 times to meetings with the UCI and other CPA meetings and whatever to fight for riders’ rights and protection. And then it’s us who f – – ks it up.
“We are never united. We are treating each other like dogs.”
Do you think there’s pressure from management or it was just the riders who decided?
“Nah, it’s just that when some of the guys have a helmet on they stop thinking.”
Okay, it’s difficult to manage in your role as rider representative at the CPA…?
“I’m not even on the UCI board but I’m on different working groups and we try to get a safety protocol and talk about issues that are happening. I think we did quite a few things to improve things in the last few years but it takes time because it’s not that you can change the UCI règlement from one day to the next. There has to be pre-approval and everything. There are lawyers and all sorts of consultation that has to take place.
“We just come up with ideas and then some people have to make it happen.
“But yesterday [Gent-Wevelgem] it was in our hands. We should have been united and said, ‘We don’t race.’
“I put on Twitter that sailing said everything above 35 knots is crazy…”
And what sort of wind was blowing yesterday? Do you know the speed?
“We had gusts up to 100km/h. No sport will go out there and race at 100km/h.”
When you’re riding it literally pushed riders off the road. It put Gert Steegmans in the canal by the look of it.
“Yeah, I think it was me who did that because I couldn’t hold my bike upright. My handlebars and my front wheel was pointing to the right but I went to the left. The bike was just sliding over the tarmac.”
Okay, so you think it was you who crashed Steegmans into the canal…?
Did you hear him splash? What was your speed at the time and what sort of detail can you recall from that incident?
“I was just like everybody else. You couldn’t ride your bike anymore. It was just not possible. You were a passenger on your own bike.”
A lot of people say that aerodynamic testing makes you ride deeper rims than you would have in the past. Does that sort of thing have a sway on it or it was just ridiculous conditions?
“Oh definitely but we saw riders with smaller front wheels have the same problem. They just got blown off the road.”
I want to pose that question because people will raise it without knowledge of how the feel actually is with the bike…
“Yeah, definitely. We all could have ridden 32-spoke wheels but no team has 32-spoke wheels anymore.” [Laughs]
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