Abi Smith: (Too) Hot Wheels…?

At the end of July, places like Sardinia in Southern Europe experienced the highest temperatures on record, of up to 48 oC. Imagine if that heatwave had come whilst the Giro Donne had been there just a month earlier. With the global climate changing and becoming more extreme each year, what happens next with cycling? 

I rode the Giro Donne in 2022, and the overriding memory I have of it was just how hot it was. Of course, being from the North of the UK I am not naturally well adapted to the Italian Summer – some might say (with a touch of irony) a fish out of water. The heat everyday was absolutely awful, almost unbearable to even stand outside. In particular a very hot, humid and hilly Stage 4 capped out at 45 oC. I think most would agree in saying that was enough… if not too much. When it comes to rider safety, it’s not just the cold we should be concerned about, as it can be just as dangerous health-wise when it gets too hot. 

Photo: Getty

Some solutions perhaps? Well I’m no expert, but here are a few thoughts:

1. Race earlier in the day. If you set off at 9am rather than 1pm, this might be quite an easy fix to avoid the mid-afternoon peak temperatures. I understand that TV coverage and media influences this decision, which might not be a popular change, but might be a necessary one.

2. Increased feeding and / or allowance of neutral feeding. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never had any neutral feeding in a women’s race and have not seen any other than in the Men’s TDF. If the organisation and neutral service cars were able to provide bottles, again this would help greatly if riders don’t have a team car or a soigneur anywhere close by and are in desperate need of water. I don’t feel this would be gaining any tactical or performance advantage, simply keeping the riders hydrated so they can continue safely. I am thinking in particular the dropped riders / grupetto, as they tend to be behind the convoy (speaking from personal experience!). Perhaps also just have a medical professional check in with these riders too as they drive past, just to see they are ok and don’t need any medical attention. 

 

Photo: Getty Images

3. In addition, some of the smaller teams often don’t have the staff or the equipment (portable ice coolers for example) to be able to support the riders enough in extreme heat, so it needs to be safe for all to race, not just the ones with all the gear.

4. Not relevant to all teams, but some teams need better kit considerations. I recall the commentators in the Men’s TDF this year discussing how much the colour of the riders’ clothing and helmets affected their body temperature, and therefore performance. Obviously darker and thicker materials absorb the light a lot more, so maybe the teams with darker kits in particular should consider having an alternate lighter-coloured and thinner Summer kit. 

5. Some teams or race organisations are beginning to work on more sustainable and eco-friendly ways to run events, such as electric cars, litter zones of course and compostable bottles. Climate Change is a huge global issue, and I won’t go into it too much, but we need to be aware of how the way races are run are affecting the environment. Some day, possibly in the near future, we may not be able to have Summer races in the same way as we do now, if global temperatures become too extreme and it is no longer safe.

6. Clearer race protocols. Perhaps there are things happening behind the scenes that I don’t know about yet, but in my opinion there needs to be a direct plan of action of when an extreme heat situation is called, eg. cancelling, postponing or shortening the race at a certain temperature / humidity etc. And most importantly – sticking to it. 

Photo: Twila Muzzi

Of course there is always the other end of the spectrum – the snow, ice and rain. These are clearly just as important, but one feels as though they are taken more seriously or adhered to more than when it gets too hot. Especially with global temperatures rising, and most of the road cycling events taking place in the hottest months of the year, should the rules be stricter on this? Nobody wants to cancel races unnecessarily, but I think that the riders’ safety in the heat is more important than the race on these occasions. Everyone’s bodies and tolerances are different, but even for those that are well-adapted, there is a point when the body will start shutting down, especially taking into consideration the limits the riders push themselves to physically anyway. 

These are just my thoughts, but there might come a time in the very near future we need to start thinking about the weather changes more seriously, so I hope this has given you a bit of food for thought! 

Check out my Instagram page @abijesmith to see what races I’m getting up in the last part of the season (and all the bits in between),

Thanks for reading 😊

Abi

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