UTRECHT, Netherlands — In all that luggage coming in and out of the airport in Amsterdam, all towed behind cycling fans headed to Utrecht for stages 1 and 2 of the 2015 Tour de France, it’s likely that there was a pair of long pants and a jacket in each one.
The Netherlands isn’t a country known for its oppressive heat, yet in the days leading up to stage 1, temperatures skyrocketed, setting weather records in consecutive days. Those long pants and jackets stayed stowed in carry-on luggage and riders kept their arm-warmers on the bus.
The stage 1 time trial was thankfully a short one, so it was certainly possible that the heat wouldn’t play too much of a role in early GC contention, though riders still had to prepare by warming up by the team buses. The risk of dehydration and other heat-related problems soared as the mercury did the same. That meant staying cool by any means necessary.
A quick walk around the team paddock was enough to make most spectators sweat through their clothes, and some looked with jealousy at riders using all of the means at their disposal to stay cool. Most riders went high-tech with ice vests and other technology designed for just such a scenario, while others managed to keep themselves cool by low-tech means like cold water bottles, water-soaked chapeaus, and when all else failed, big fans.
Nairo Quintana seemed to simply suffer through it with no cooling aids, perhaps preparing his body for the stress that was to come on the fast course through Utrecht.
It’s easy to scoff at such a short stage, but riders looked destroyed as they dismounted after the finish line. Sweat poured. Skin flared. This was no easy day in Utrecht, especially considering the long days ahead. Yet stage 2 brought a much cooler day and foul weather, more typical of the Netherlands, so the great lengths necessary to stay cool were not required for long.
Other preparations were necessary to face the wind, rain, and slick roads as the Tour left Utrecht for the final time in 2015.
When the road heads south to France, however, hotter days are undoubtedly ahead and the fans will come back out, the ice vests will drip on hot pavement, and wet chapeaus will coat already-sun-beaten heads. It’s a race and riders are used to the competition, the preparation, and even the agony, but it’s important to maintain a balance of healthy habits against the grueling demands they will place on their bodies for three weeks.
It’s also important for riders to avoid ending the race before it begins by over-exerting themselves in extreme conditions.
Despite all the training, a rider can be broken by the weather, from heat to cold and everything in between. Expect to see those cooling vests again as Mother Nature plays her always-unpredictable hand.