FEZ – It is the fourth stage of the Tour du Maroc bicycle race, and we are somewhere between Guercif and Fez.
Since this morning, the wind has not stopped sweeping this stretch of road, and the cyclists with it. Everyone is pedaling in slow motion, at about 15 kilometers per hour. Some of the cyclists can’t even pedal straight – zigzagging, almost falling into the ditch or hitting cars… a press motorcycle falls on its side.
The wind is getting worse, blowing harder and harder, to the point where it is even ungluing the advertising stickers from the publicity caravans.
The pack is angry – some cyclists go to the president of the jury, Eduardo Margiotta, an Italian, to ask him to cancel the fourth stage. Unthinkable! Forty minutes after the start of the stage, the peloton pack cyclists get off their bikes. “This wind is becoming dangerous,” says race front-runner, Mathieu Perget from France. “No, it is not dangerous,” answers Margiotta.
The problem is: two runners have made a breakaway, and the pack is losing precious minutes while the fugitives are making headway. “Let's catch up to them,” says Perget. The cyclists – 16 amateur teams – are back on the road, faster than ever. But, 20 minutes later, the wind is back. The peloton stops again, the organizers are furious. The riders want to finish the stage in their technical directors’ cars. “If you go back to the cars, hand in your bib and go home,” yells Margiotta.
Even the president of the Royal Moroccan Cycling Federation, Mohammed Belmahi is starting to get annoyed – but keeps smiling. He goes to a Spanish cyclist: “Are you here for tourism?” – “No,” answers the young man. “Get back to it, then,” says Belmahi. The race stops for a long time. Nobody seems to want to resume. Margiotta proposes a solution: placing car in front of the pack so that cyclists are protected from the wind.
Everyone gets back on their bicycles, riders hugging the cars. It is colder and colder – the temperature drops from 17° Celsius to 13°. Thirty-five minutes later, it starts raining. The whole pack stops and runs to shelter in an abandoned house. The president of the jury is furious: “This is not possible! It is not professional!”
A pack of tourists
Belmahi, hiding under a plastic poncho, starts making fun of the “tourists” who have come to Morocco for its sun. “It's a race... wind, rain... it's cycling, it's all ok” he says. But no one is listening. “These armchair cyclists are lazy, all they want to do is eat,” he says, smiling, before shouting: “Come on, couscous and tagine for everybody!”
It is utter chaos. Moroccan journalists are holding up microphones and filming the declarations of the various Tour du Maroc managers. “Ricardo! Ricardo! Where is Ricardo?” asks Belmahi, before finding out that the president of the jury is actually called Eduardo.
The pack refuses to leave and Margiotta threatens to rip the bib off the most recalcitrant cyclists. It doesn’t work and the cyclists get on the bus for Fez. The idea is to stop 60 kilometers before the finishing line and to resume the race. “The organizers are doing their best, but the cyclists are not reasonable,” says Margiotta. “Enough with the tourists,” says Zlatica Valachova, the coordinator of the Slovakian national team.
Everybody gets back on the road, in a convoy escorted by police. They drive quickly, so quickly that the truck transporting the bikes crashes. A few wheels and handlebars are twisted; the fourth stage is definitely cancelled. The French front-runner is happy, so are the others. Back to the hotel, couscous and tagine for everyone.