How extreme temperatures are influencing the Tour de France

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The European heatwave has not spared Tour de France riders, few of which, are heat adapted to extreme temperatures. (Photo: A.S.O/Charly Lopez, Pauline Ballet, Jered & Ashley Gruber)
The European heatwave has not spared Tour de France riders, few of which, are heat adapted to extreme temperatures. (Photo: A.S.O/Charly Lopez, Pauline Ballet, Jered & Ashley Gruber)

As the nation baked in a searing heatwave on Tuesday, the Tour de France moved away from the cauldron-like stone citadel of Carcassonne toward the relative cool of the Pyrenean foothills.

The weather has been a hot topic these last few days for the riders as they plough their way through the French countryside. It has also caused major problems for the organisers.

When the Tour arrived in the south-western France on Sunday, tens of thousands of litres of water were used to cool melting roads that reached temperatures of 60-degrees Celsius.

Ineos's young superstar Tom Pidcock cooled down by leaping into a fountain. Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard and all his Jumbo Visma team wore cooling vests until the very last second, before Tuesday's stage got underway.

Tour de France
Defending champion, Pogacar, is known to dislike riding in extreme heat. He suffered in the Alps. (Photo: A.S.O/Charly Lopez, Pauline Ballet, Jered & Ashley Gruber)

Even the best - are suffering 

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia admitted on Monday that the 30-degree Celsius heat on stage 11 had contributed to his own meltdown. "Suddenly I didn't feel very well," he said. "But I'm getting used to the heat."

But the 149 remaining riders on the world's most prestigious bike race escaped the worst heat on Tuesday, as the Tour wound into the cooler, higher altitude of the Pyrenees.

The finish at Foix, though, was as unbearable as Carcassonne, albeit with screeching cicadas and the odd sunbathing lizard.

Giant strawberry

Ahead of stage 16, only 149 of the 172 original members of the peloton remained, many of them dropping out due to brain fog in the heat.

The official road temperature on Tuesday was between 45- and 55-degrees Celsius, with only one small stretch of tarmac needing cold water poured onto it. Two days ago 20 000-litres of water were used at the most critical point of melting roads.

The Tour freebie distributing 'caravan', so keenly awaited by fans packed along the route, was blocked when one of the vehicles, a giant strawberry sponsored by a French supermarket, broke down.

"Nothing to worry about," a gendarme told AFP at the scene. "It's normal in this heat."

Beside it, the forlorn driver of a giant orange seemed disappointed when it received instructions to continue along the route alone.

Earlier in the week on a climb to Mende, a police car also overheated and burst into flames, leaving nothing but a burnt out shell within minutes. Unamused gendarmes declined to comment when AFP asked what had happened.

Tour de France
Terrifyingly steep climbs and searing temperatures, have influenced the race strategy of team leaders. (Photo: A.S.O/Charly Lopez, Pauline Ballet, Jered & Ashley Gruber)

It will be hot all the way to Paris 

Temperatures at Carcassonne, which is surrounded by several kilometres of giant stone ramparts, were down to 31-degrees on Tuesday. But should rise towards 38-degrees Celsius again on Thursday.

Wednesday and Thursday see racing in the Pyrenees, with the last true mountain stages of the Tour de France route. Riders should have relative comfort in the cooler, sheltered forest roads of these stages - at around 1600m altitude.

Local newspaper La Depeche Midi, meanwhile, ran a headline of "Uncontrollable" above a shot of a forest fire in the Bordeaux region where 32 000 people have fled their homes.

Paris recorded a sensational 41-degrees Celsius on Tuesday. The prediction is for a temperature of 34-degrees, when the peloton finishes in the French capital on Sunday. 

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