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Tour de France

Feeling the heat: How the Tour peloton stays cool

Dealing with rising temperatures in a bike race is surprisingly low-tech.

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TROYES, France (VN) — In today’s high-tech, cutting-edge peloton, there’s still nothing that beats dumping a bottle of water over your head when temperatures soar.

In a sport that counts on technology more and more to squeeze out results, staying cool and hydrated remains fantastically old-school.

Want to cool off? Ice socks down the back. Need to gulp two liters of water after the stage? Add a splash of pineapple juice to make it tastier. And how do you bring bidons up to your teammates? Shove them into your jersey or a musette.

“We’re using musette bags to pass up the bottles now. It’s old-school, but it works,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “With the skin suits and new materials we use in the jerseys, you can’t stuff the bottles in the back of the jerseys like you used to see.”

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With temperatures soaring into the mid-90s and a five- to six-hour spell on the open roads (where the radiant heat is even hotter), teams are paying extra attention to keeping their riders well-hydrated ahead of important climbing stages.

After relatively cool temperatures for the opening days of the 2017 Tour, the thermometer shot into the mid-90s Thursday. And with that, one of the Tour’s longest stages became even longer. For riders whose job it is to fetch bottles, the stages are longer still.

“We’re going back to the car every 10 minutes to get new bottles,” said Cannondale-Drapac’s Nate Brown. “Anything to stay hydrated.”

Brown estimates he went through 20 bottles in Thursday’s long stage, a number that will likely remain the same Friday. Multiply that by nine riders per team, and the soigneurs had a busy morning Friday loading up the team cars.

That will also lead to lots of souvenirs for the fans lining the route.

“I was drinking two bottles an hour,” said Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings. “The key is to stay hydrated. It’s easy to get it wrong, and you suffer a lot.”

Cummings pointed out that the heat not only saps the energy out of the race, but obviously affects the speed of the peloton as well.

“Yesterday, when it cooled a bit, you could feel a two-degree’s drop, and the speed just shot up,” Cummings said. “Of course, you slow down in this heat, and your threshold goes down.”

Teams do what they can to keep their riders hydrated and as cool as possible. Top GC men like Chris Froome (Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) stay tucked inside the bunch. It’s up to their workers to shuttle up the bottles.

“Everyone takes turns getting bottles,” Brown said. “We had Andrew [Talansky] and Rigo [Rigoberto Urán] protected, and the rest of us would rotate back to get the bottles.”

Some of the space-age technology that’s creeped into the peloton has tweaked the job of carrying up bottles. It’s hard for riders to stuff water bottles into the full-body skinsuits and aerodynamic materials that many teams race with now.

Orica-Scott and other teams also use specially designed vests that can hold up to eight bottles at a time. White said they use those vests once the race turns into the mountains. He noted it’s safer to keep things simple on the flatter stages.

“We have one less rider already, so that makes the job a little easier,” White said of Luke Durbridge, who crashed out. “We can pass up bottles from the cars. It’s important that everyone drinks enough during the stage.”

Ice is a hot commodity on warm days. Soigneurs run ice machines dry at team hotels and then have to hurry to local markets to buy bags of ice. Water bottles are packed with ice to add a chill.

Soigneurs will also pass up socks packed with ice that riders can stuff down the back of their jerseys to take the edge off. Feed zones offer another opportunity to hand out bottles.

Hydration before and after the stages is key as well. Riders mix in pineapple juice with water bottles to make things a little more palatable, drinking up to two liters of water immediately after each stage.

Orica-Scott veteran Mathew Hayman said he’ll even take an ice bath after each stage to help him keep cool.

“At night I’ll do an ice bath,” Hayman said. “I know there is some disagreement on how it might help with muscle recovery, but it’s a good way of lowering the body temperature. It cools you down, and you can get a nice night’s rest.”

While it is hot on the open roads, it hasn’t been scorching enough to provoke discussions of the “extreme weather protocol.” If temperatures continue to climb, there could be some talk of shortening stages, but that seems unlikely.

Forecasters were calling for afternoon showers Friday. That’s one douse of rain that everyone will welcome.

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