CYCLING INTO UNCERTAINTY
By: Andrea Yan
As Europe battles a historic heatwave, questions have arisen about the safety of the most grueling cycling race: The Tour de France.
“It’s the most important race in the world,” says Samuel Bellonoue, director of performance for French cycling team Cofidis. It has long been a source of pride for the French to host this prestigious race, which highlights the beautiful scenery of the country. However, this year, the effects of climate change were also evident. Cyclists rode through bare farmland, melting glaciers, and burning wildfires.
On the final day of the tour, the temperature was 93 degrees; 20 degrees higher than an average July temperature in Paris. Despite these scorching temperatures, tour officials still stuck with the traditional schedule: each stage occurring in the afternoon. Officials decided on this schedule because of tradition and increased viewership during that time. However, officials changed some rules to accommodate for the heat: they allowed rehydrating during the first miles of the race.
The athletes have also used strategies to make the heat more bearable. Before the stage starts, cyclists spend most of their time in the shade, wearing vests made of ice packs. They wear jerseys that let air flow and helmets that have more openings for the same purpose. After the end of the stage, they take cold foot baths.
Even with these methods, the heat is still uncomfortable. One experienced rider, who has been in the tour for 10 years, told reporters that the heat was unlike anything that he had experienced. He also blames the heat for finishing slow on an imperative stage because he had been “roasted” on his bike. Another rider vomited and collapsed after a long climb in the Alps and was treated immediately on-site for heatstroke and was taken to a hospital. He had to pull out due to fever and skin infection that required surgery.
Climate protestors have also voiced their opinions on the Tour. The protestors chained themselves and blocked the road, halting the tour on two days. The group that did this says they did it because “the world toward which politicians are sending us is a world in which the Tour de France will no longer exist.”
Matthieu Sorel, climate change expert at France’s meteorological service who was among the spectator watching the race in the Pyrenees says “[w]e’re going to have to change the way the Tour de France is designed in the next few years. It won’t be possible to ride with such temperatures during the afternoon.” The safety of the cyclists should be the priority going into future years as the heat will only become worse as climate change progresses.