Teams, riders get creative in desert heat at worlds

Triple-digit heat in Qatar made elite men's time trial championships a brutal affair. Some coped with the weather better than others.

Photo: TDW

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DOHA, Qatar (VN) — What’s the best way to stay cool in the blasting, mid-day desert sun? Stuff ice down your jersey, lots of it.

With temperatures tipping north of 100 degrees, riders and teams got creative trying to manage the heat for Wednesday’s elite men’s time trial. Riders used ice vests before and after the race to cool down. Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen started with his jersey stuffed with ice. Soigneurs stuffed ice in jerseys, gloves, and even socks. Within 10 minutes, it had all melted or slipped away.

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Alexey Vermeulen, the 21-year-old American neo-pro racing in his first elite world championship, rode with a Camelback that was frozen overnight. He even stuffed ice cubes into his gloves.

“They were completed melted by 4km into the race,” Vermeulen said. “The ice in the Camelback quickly turned into water. At least I had something to drink.”

Intense desert heat pushed 66 starters to their limits in Wednesday’s 40km individual time trial. Riders crossed the line covered in sweat, red from the effort, or ashen, depending on how deep they went.

“I think I lost more brain cells than I lost weight,” said American Taylor Phinney, who finished 15th. “It was a really weird race mentally, because it was so hot.”

Start line temperatures for the first rider off, at 1:38 p.m. local time, were 102F, with just above 10 percent humidity, and a light breeze. As stupefying as that seemed, it could have been even worse. At the finish line, riders chugged water, wiped down, and searched out shade. About a half dozen riders collapsed in a shady spot behind the finish line after the intense effort.

“Racing in 40C is pleasant!” laughed Greek rider Polychronic Tzortzakis. “It’s a pleasure!”

While some laughed, others collapsed. Colombia’s Walter Vargas gritted in pain as his left calf muscle twitched in agony. Ironically, the rider who seemed to suffer the most was from Qatar, Afif Abdullah. He collapsed after finishing just under 13 minutes slower than winner Tony Martin of Germany, clearly going too deep to try to impress on home roads. He was still on his back 30 minutes after the race.

“It was hot, long, and pretty miserable,” said Australian Luke Durbridge. “If I was coming off a hot, Aussie summer, I’d be OK, but I’m coming here from Europe, just like everyone else.”

The heat certainly impacted the race, and rider after rider said they noticed diminishing power output in the heat. Pre-race favorite Rohan Dennis (Australia) said he was posting 30 watts less than he could manage in the team time trial on Sunday, when the rotations gave him a slender chance to better manage the heat.

“What you can produce at 20C to 25C is very different than what you produce at 40C,” said Great Britain’s Steve Cummings. “I’ve not had a lot of opportunity to train in this heat in the past, so you’re left guessing [on how to pace].”

Pre-race favorite Tom Dumoulin was disappointed with 11th, but the Dutchman said the heat just made an off day even worse.

“It was like a snowball effect,” Dumoulin said, oblivious to the irony. “It just wasn’t my day, and with the heat, when you are not feeling your best, it just made everything worse.”

Different riders and teams tried to manage the heat. USA Cycling implemented a “sauna protocol” for its riders ahead of Doha and struck gold Tuesday, winning the women’s and junior men’s gold medals. Ireland’s Ryan Mullen took that a step further, and even trained inside of a sauna, helping him to finish fifth.

Winner Martin also had an unorthodox preparation for Doha. After reverting to the time trial position that delivered him three-straight world titles, he locked himself inside of his bathroom, sealed the doors, and set up a heater to blow warm air on him.

“People called me crazy for doing that,” Martin said. “But what I did today was easier than being in that bathroom.”

Mullen raced at the peak heat of the day, starting just after 2 p.m. As soon as the sun starts to curve down in the sky, there is a noticeable cooling effect, with temperatures dropping by several degrees. By the time Martin was receiving his rainbow stripes on the podium, at least it wasn’t unpleasant to stand around.

“We all knew it would be like this before we came, so if you do not like it, well, you should not have come,” said French rider Jeremy Roy with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve raced in heat like this before, at the Tour Down Under, but there, it is different because you can take a drink, and free-wheel a little bit. Today, the heat was miserable for everyone.”

Even regional riders were suffering. Alban Nuha of Saudi Arabia was in a daze after his effort.

“This is hot, even for us,” he said. “It’s too hot here in the summer for us, so we must go to Europe to train. Today was hot, but it was even hotter a few days ago.”

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