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Beat the heat

6 July 2021
Beat the heat

Campagnolo-using teams employ a number of cooling strategies.

As the Tour de France hits the Alps and the Pyrenees, the thermometer rises like the mountains. Thankfully, Campagnolo-using teams employ a number of cooling strategies.

At the 2021 Tour de France, UAE Team Emirates, AG2R Citroen Team, Lotto-Soudal and Cofidis, Solutions Crédits will be using a mix of Campagnolo wheels and groupsets, helping riders like Tadej Pogacar and Thomas de Gendt reach their potential when the heat is on.

 

 

And during the Tour, the heat really can be on with roadside temperatures reaching in excess of 50°C. It’s brutal, draining power with every pedal stroke.

That is if teams didn’t employ heat-beating strategies in the name of peak performance

 

KEEPING THE CORE COOL

 

 

Stage 13 of the 2019 Tour de France – a 27km time-trial around the city known as the Gateway to the Pyrenees – was one of the hottest of the race. Temperatures were well into the 30s but teams still had to ‘warm up’ to be primed for peak performance. 

That meant the turbo trainers were out including those clamped into the bikes of Campagnolo-using UAE Team Emirates. 

There, in the sweltering heat, UAE Team Emirates’ head of trainers and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Inigo San Millán, set the scene and explained the rationale behind some of the cooling strategies that will inevitably be used once again at this year’s Tour.

 

 

Strategie che verranno usate ancora una volta quest’anno nelle tappe più calde del Tour.

"In front of the bus, the team are riding against fans that provide a cooling effect,” he explained. “This is needed because they warm up for 35-40mins before heading off. The thing is, the time-trial’s explosive from the start so they need to get the blood flowing to the muscles but don’t want to over-heat. It’s a fine balance."

“They also have ice towels draped over their necks, shoulders and back. We’ve used ice vests before but the towels cover a greater surface area. And the drinks are cooler than normal; in fact, they’re very cold and once the fluid enters the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, they aim to cool core temperature. Again, we’ve used ice slushies in the past but don’t see the need now as they’re laborious to lug about. Ultimately, we prefer very cold drinks, ice towels and fans full on.”

 

STAY HYDRATED

 

 

 

Okay, it might not be high-tech but it’s certainly beneficial as an increase in core temperature can rapidly lead to dehydration with one study showing that sustained dehydration can lead to strength, power output and high-intensity muscular endurance dropping by 2, 3 and 10%, respectively. 

Dehydration is the enemy, which brings us to hydration strategies. On a long, hot stage, depending on what the rider’s role or strategy is, they can sweat up to 1.5 litres each hour.

Over a six-hour ride, that adds up to nine litres lost. Studies have shown that individuals can tolerate no more than a 2% drop in bodyweight though sweat before performance is affected, meaning the rider will aim to compensate for that nine-litre loss by aiming to drink near enough the same amount.

 

 

That’s why riders’ bottles will often be filled with water only, electrolytes or/and carbohydrates.

Water’s clearly needed to hydrate and throw over the head; carbohydrates replenish energy; but what about electrolytes? 

Well, arguably this is the most important for the sweating rider, as it contains high levels of sodium. Sodium helps to maintain blood plasma volume and transport water from the bloodstream to working muscles.

If all the rider’s drinks contained water with hardly any sodium, the body wouldn’t retain it and it’d just be weed out beside the road.

Sodium levels are sometimes bespoke to the rider as sodium levels in sweat can vary dramatically, albeit this is often impractical for teams in a frenetic race like the Tour.

 

 

As well as weighing the riders, teams can measure hydration status by simple urine charts or a device that measures the specific gravity of the riders’ urine.

Essentially, this measures the density of urine in relation to water and the denser the urine, the less hydrated the rider. 

 

CLOTHING AND FITNESS

 

 

Clothing also plays a part with polyester far more efficient at wicking moisture than the woollen apparel used by riders of times gone by. (Wicking’s where sweat is transferred from the body to the open air.) 

But ultimately, one of the best defences riders have against the heat of the Tour de France is themselves. Studies show that as fitness grows, riders experience a host of adaptations that are naturally conducive to racing fast in the heat. 

These include greater evaporative heat dissipation through improved sweat response and greater sensitivity of sweating response to increasing core temperature. Improved aerobic capacity also leads to elevated plasma volume and cardiac output, which minimises the competition for blood distribution between skeletal muscle and skin.

 

 

The Tour de France is won or lost depending on how a rider copes with debilitating temperatures.

But with cooling and hydration strategies practised over and over again in training and at training camps, the world’s best have never been more prepared to beat the heat.

 

 

© TDW / Getty Images

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