Tour de France
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Heat wave zaps Tour de France peloton

Soaring temperatures in the south of France are making even the transition stages at the Tour a challenge.

PONT-DU-GARD, France (VN) — A heat wave sweeping through southern Europe is zapping the Tour de France as it enters its final stages.

Yesterday, the mercury reached 40 degrees Celsius, and on the road it soared to 60 degrees Celsius (that’s 104 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Riders rode with ice vests before the start, drank double the amount of liquids during the race, and doused themselves with water afterwards.

“That’s the thing with grand tour racing — every day it’s something you don’t expect,” Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) told VeloNews. “Yesterday on paper was a flat sprint stage to ease us back into the third week, and then, bang, a 39 degree average [102.2°F]. So it’s just always something you have to deal with. There’s no easy days.”

Thankfully, every rider is in the same boat, although some deal with the heat better than others.

“For everyone, it’s the same, so we have to deal with it,” Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) explained. “We have to drink a lot. But don’t forget to eat because if you don’t eat on this stage, if you forget because of the heat, then you will suffer the next days much more.”

Star Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) said the riders’ union should get involved if the heat continues like this.

And thus far, it continues. At the start of stage 17 this morning in Pont-du-Gard, the temperature had already reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit at 11 a.m. and was expected to rise as the cyclists raced toward the valley finish in Gap. Out on the road, it soared to well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

“You have to save your energy; days like this really hit you in the face,” said Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma). “I don’t think this is healthy, maybe the organization has to do something when the temperature are so extremely high.”

Dowsett cannot imagine organizer ASO shortening or cancelling a stage due to heat, because of the money involved, where start and finish towns shell out thousands of euros for the right to host the famous French event.

“I can’t see it happening — it’s the Tour de France, there’s more money than there is… I’d say the money overrides the safety in some aspects,” he explained. “If it’s just about tolerable, then we’ll go with it. Hopefully if it becomes absolutely insane then they’ll do something, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.”

This Tour has been hot, but it isn’t the hottest in history. The Tour recorded its most sultry day in the Station des Rousses stage in 2010, when it was 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at road level.

“Yesterday, it was all day between 38 to 41 degrees C (100 to 106 Fahrenheit). I mean, yesterday’s stage was okay,” said Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott). “Of course, if it’s coming on a 290-kilometer stage or in the mountains with 40 degrees on the climbs, then it’s a different story. But I think yesterday there was nothing to complain about.”

In terms of solutions, some riders are unsure what should be done.

“I don’t really know the solution how to deal with this,” added Kruijswijk. “With these temperatures, they have to think about the health of the riders. They have to be certain the riders are safe. Hopefully we won’t get a lot of days like this.”

The days may change. The forecast shows a chance of showers with highs only around 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) this weekend when the race is in the Alps for its final stages before the Paris finale on Sunday.