Icelandic volcano disrupts Amstel Gold Race

Planes, trains and automobiles for travel-hit cyclists

Missing out on riding a major bike race with 257.3 kilometres and 31 climbs on the menu would probably be welcomed by most people.

But not Europe's cycling elite, who on Friday and Saturday employed every method possible to defy the travel chaos besieging the continent and threatening their participation in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race one-day classic.

Some, like Britain's Bradley Wiggins and former Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, simply had to accept defeat as huge clouds of ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland forced many airports to cancel or postpone flights.

Wiggins, of Team Sky, and Cervelo rider Sastre were among the few left at home for the weekend, however, as dozens of their workmates chose alternative routes, hired cars and drove thousands of kilometres to get to the Netherlands' biggest bike race.

One favourite, Joaquim Rodriguez, travelled to Zurich when his plan to fly to either Brussels or Cologne was sunk by the closure of many European flight routes because of clouds of volcanic ash.

"When I got to the airport (in Spain) the flights for Brussels and Cologne were cancelled. Thankfully I managed to get one for Zurich," said Rodriguez, who rides for the Katusha team with fellow contender Filippo Pozzato. Once on Swiss soil, the pair hired a car and drove 600km to Holland, "relaying each other at the wheel" before arriving at their hotel at midnight.

Normally a minimum of six riders are needed for participation at Amstel, and there were fears among many teams they would have to pull out at the last minute, however organisers have made exceptions.

Some teams were fortunate enough to have most of their riders nearby, following the staging of the Belgian one-day race Brabantse Pijl. However the multi-national make-up of bike teams meant many others were forced to make extra efforts that could prove costly come race day. Footon-Servetto, for example, called on eight riders to travel from Spain, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria.

Coming from Copenhagen, Dane Martin Pedersen drove 850km to get to Maastricht. Austrian teammate Markus Eibegger, who lives in Spielberg, took a train to Cologne and drove the rest of the way.

For those based on the Iberian peninsula, getting to Maastricht was more problematic. After a pre-dawn rise, Portuguese Manuel Cardoso and Spanish pair Rafael Valls and Aitor Perez Arrieta left Santander at 5.30am to begin a 1,300km car journey which took them 13 hours.

Austrian Matthias Brandle and Italian pair Fabio Felline and Eros Capecchi took nine hours to drive 850km from San Bernardino in Switzerland to Maastricht with their manager Mauro Gianetti.

Another victory contender, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, was forced out late on Saturday when he and two other Caisse d'Epargne team-mates, Luis Leon Sanchez and Luis Pasamontes, were unable to fly out of Madrid.

Race director Leo van Vliet said on Saturday that he expected most of the field to make it to the start line. "This is force majeure. Nothing can be done against this," he said. "Several teams have contacted our organisation and they are already taking all possible measures so that they can be [here] on time. That is clever. My opinion is that the problem will solve itself, but most important is that the ash cloud disappears soon."

Belgian Philippe Gilbert won the race with a late but well timed solo attack.

© AFP 2010

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