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Unrelenting heat is taking its collective toll on the Vuelta a España.
Temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Saturday’s stage at the Vuelta a España, and riders collapsed at the finish line, gulping for air and pouring water bottles over their heads.
“The heat has been brutal,” said LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett. “Every day we’re closer to the north, the peloton is happier.”
Heat and the Vuelta go hand in hand, especially since the race was moved to late summer in 1995. This year’s edition, spending much of the first week in Andalusia in southern Spain, has seemed even hotter than normal.
Even though the heat and humidity have been talking points since the Vuelta started August 25 in Málaga, Saturday’s eighth stage from Linares to Almadén was even more extreme.
Much of the opening week stayed close to the Mediterranean Coast, which at least knocked a few degrees off the thermometer (with a bump in humidity). Saturday’s stage traversed the sun-parched Cordoba province and climbed onto Spain’s southern meseta, far away from the cooling coastal breezes. Temperatures climbed above 100 Fahrenheit throughout most of the stage.
“The heat has made it a little bit harder every day,” said Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac). “The road is putting everyone in their place.”
Managing heat and hydration is key for teams. Riders burn through extra bidons on extremely hot days and soigneurs can pass up to 15 to 20 water bottles pera rider each day. Riders stuff ice socks into their jerseys to take the sting out of the sun.
The Vuelta stages often start at the hottest part of the day, usually between noon and 2 p.m., making the battle against the heat and sun that much more of a challenge. So far, there hasn’t been any rain or much cloud cover to alleviate the heat conditions.
“You can see riders don’t want to go too hard in this heat,” said LottoNL-Jumbo sport director Addy Engels. “If you push too much when it is this hot, you really pay for it later.”
So far, the Vuelta hasn’t reached crisis heat levels that might trigger the extreme-weather protocol. Saturday’s highs were the most of this year’s Vuelta. Last month, the opening stages Tour of Portugal were held under extreme temperatures of more than 115 Fahrenheit. Riders were suffering symptoms of heat stroke and local firefighters hosed down the peloton as it passed through towns and villages.
Certain riders react worse to the heat than others. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is known to especially suffer in the heat and he admitted that he’s looking forward to heading toward the cooler climes of northern Spain.
“I was a little bit affected by the heat in the opening days,” Quintana said. “Now I am feeling better and we are arriving to terrain that favors us better.”
The Vuelta comes on the heels of an equally warm and sunny Tour de France. The 2018 edition did not see any rain until the penultimate stage in France’s Basque Country. Dealing with long, hot days in the saddle seems to be the new norm for summer stage races.
The peloton should see a break in the extreme heat later this week as the Vuelta pushes north toward Spain’s “costa verde” along the Atlantic coast. Sunday’s climbing stage does not offer much relief on the slopes of La Covatilla, but stage 10 near Salamanca will see highs in lower 80s, with even a chance of showers Wednesday.
Riders should expect another sweltering start for 2019. Next year’s edition will begin in Torrevieja along Spain’s Costa Blanca near Alicante. Though not quite as hot as Andalusia, heat and late August are synonymous just about everywhere in southern Spain.