With a heat wave building toward a sweltering peak, Tour de France organizers were ready to pour tens of thousands of liters of cold water onto a route that risks melting at road temperatures of 60°C.
Riders on Friday battled the heat as the peloton gave up its pursuit of an escape group. The peloton had already been punished by the two days of monster mountain climbs, such as the Alpe d’Huez won by Tom Pidcock.
On Wednesday’s dramatic stage to Col du Granon, two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar, known to dislike heat, wilted and lost his lead in temperatures well over 30°C.
“It was horrible, a furnace,” French climber Thibaut Pinot said.
His compatriot Romain Bardet said that the following day had been worse.
“I was trembling and my pulse was racing,” he said.
With sizzling air temperatures of 38°C to 40°C degrees forecast over the weekend, as the race moved towards the Pyrenees, the situation was even worse.
As a result, special measures were readied.
French departments road safety organizer Andre Bancala said at the foot of the Alps on Friday that record road temperatures of 63°C could be beaten.
“During a heat wave, such as the one we are expecting of over 38 degrees, the road temperature gets much higher than that, around 60 degrees,” Bancala said.
“The absolute record for heat was in 2010 with a road temperature of 63 degrees when Sylvain Chavanel won in the Jura,” he added. “But this weekend we may even break that, so we are mobilizing between us and the fire brigade, to combat that.”
“In certain places, the asphalt is going to start melting, not everywhere of course, but it is going to get much softer. So you can imagine how that might end? The solution will be to pour water on it,” he said, adding that the Tour has a permanent truck for such situations.
The fire brigade would also be on hand to help.
“We will have vehicles with 10,000 liters of water taken along the way, the regional departments are going to help us to cool the roads,” he said.
However, the logistical nightmare does not end there, because “you have to do it at just the right moment, if you do it too early it just heats up again,” Bancala said.
“If you do it too late the peloton rides onto wet surfaces. It has to be around 15 minutes before they get there,” he added. “Think about it. If the road surface is 55 or 60 degrees, and the pedal is only 20cm above that, then the rider is subject to exposure to extreme temperatures.”
Team Jumbo-Visma riders, including Tour de France leader Jonas Vingegaard, have been wearing cooling jackets ahead of the stages as the heat wave builds.
They are the only team using such jackets for none time trials.
After Friday’s stage Vingegaard said the heat had not been a problem for him.
“Regular cold drinks and ice packs on the back as often as you can during the race to keep the body temperature down, that’s what you do,” Vingegaard said.
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