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Tour de France

Soaring temperatures turn up the heat on Tour de France peloton: ‘It was a furnace’

Organizers prepare 10,000 liters of water to douse melting tarmac as peloton meets a heatwave in sun-scorched southern France this weeekend.

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SAINT-ÉTIENNE, France (VN) – The Tour de France peloton woke up to bright blue skies and sizzling sun early Saturday morning as the weekend ushers in a heatwave through southern France.

The Tour’s transition from the Alps to the Pyrénées through the Occitanie region will be met by a heatwave that will melt tarmac and fry the already frazzled bunch as the race heads toward its third week.

Steadily rising temperatures are set to kick up to 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) for stage 14 to Mende on Saturday and again for stage 15 on Sunday.

“The evolution [of the weather] is looking very likely to be a heat wave, with a peak probably between Saturday, July 16 and Tuesday, July 19,” warned Météo-France.

With thermometer-melting mercury on tap for the coming days, teams and organizers are rolling out extra precautions.

Ice socks for rider’s necks and boundless number of salt-laced bidons are being loaded into team cars for two long, lumpy stages through the sun-scorched south.

Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers riders have been spotted sheltering under parosols and wearing cooling vests when speaking to the press ahead of stages in recent days.

Race organizers are working with local authorities to keep the peloton cool.

“During a heatwave, such as the one we are expecting of over 38 degrees, the road temperature gets much higher than that, around 60 degrees,”  French departments road safety organizer Andre Bancala told AFP.

“The absolute record for heat was in 2010 with a road temperature of 63 degrees when Sylvain Chavanel won in the Jura, but this weekend we may even break that. So we are mobilising between us and the fire brigade to combat that.”

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Just four days after climate change activists disrupted stage 10 at the start of the week, the growing impact of environmental change on pro cycling – and pro cycling’s impact on the environment – is back in the picture this weekend.

Regional fire authorities will roll out wagons spraying 10,000 liters of water onto the fast-melting tarmac to mitigate greenhouse-like conditions.

“If the road surface is 55 or 60 degrees, and the pedal is only 20 centimeters above that, then the rider is subject to exposure to extreme temperatures,” Bancala said.

Bancala and his crews will navigate a peloton of trucks along the race route shortly ahead of the peloton this weekend. Officials are aiming to douse tarmac 15 minutes ahead of the riders in a window of opportunity that cools conditions but doesn’t leave surfaces sketchy.

Meanwhile, those in the bunch will be picking their moves wisely.

“It was horrible, a furnace,” Thibaut Pinot said after he suffered in the 30-plus degree digits seen on the Col du Granon this week.

Teams out of the GC picture will likely cool jets for when they matter most.

“For me and the whole team almost, we’ll just get through expending as little energy possible until it counts,” Quinn Simmons told VeloNews. “With the heat, everyone’s going to suffer, that’s just how it is.”

If temperatures get out of hand, the extreme weather protocol could come into play.

Until then, the peloton just has to brace for the burn.

“It will be the same for everyone,” Tadej Pogačar said of the heat set for Saturday and Sunday. “You just have to keep your body cool enough. I don’t think anyone likes to race for five hours in the 40 degrees, I don’t even think it’s healthy for us.”

The sun is set to cool slightly when the race reaches the Pyrénées early next week, but the racing will remain red-hot as Pogačar and yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard resume GC hostilities.

Geraint Thomas came to the media mixed zone in a cooling vest Friday morning.