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Tour de France: future heatwaves may make it untenable to hold the race in July

As the men’s Tour de France wraps up and the women’s tournament begins, the European heat wave rages on. If you look closely, the heat can be seen in photos of the event: cooling towels around racers’ necks, water splashed over red faces, ice packs sticking out from under race jerseys.

Compounding the temperatures is the heat island effect created by roads which absorb and radiate heat. On the hottest days of the men’s race, with temperatures nearing 40℃, organisers even watered some of the roads to lower the surface temperature. And while this works, it also adds to the humidity – solving one problem but contributing to another. It also doesn’t account for the environmental implications of using that much water to hose down a road.

The heatwave comes as no surprise to those who follow cycling. Mudslides, extreme heat, hail and a surprising amount of snow have interrupted stages of the Tour in recent years.

In 2019, for instance, a severe mudslide covered the whole road in stage 19 of the race, forcing the race to stop. Since athletes had no idea what was ahead of them, they spent several hours toiling on the course that day until the race director stopped the race and called in bulldozers to clear the debris.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has an extreme weather protocol to guide race organisers in their response to such weather events. The policy calls for the convening of a meeting between the race doctor, chief of security, representatives for riders and teams, and representatives from the UCI when extreme weather conditions are anticipated prior to the start of a stage. No policy exists for inclement weather that crops up when a race is already in motion.

Conspicuously absent from the policy is any regard for whether the policy could be activated by specific thresholds for wet-bulb globe temperature – a measure which includes temperature, humidity and wind speed, and which is taken in direct sunlight and so closely matches how hot it actually feels for the cyclists. It’s left up to the named stakeholders to determine what constitutes “extreme weather” and the lines on this are blurry.


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For the full article by Dr Madeleine Orr, visit the Conversation

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