Riders bake on opening stage
Much of the discussion after the opening stage of the 2013 Tour of California was not about stage winner and race leader Lieuwe Westra's cagey victory but about the weather - and with good reason. After a long, dismal winter in Europe and snow just last week in parts of Colorado and the midwest in the USA, the 100-degree temperatures that baked riders throughout the 165km stage were a real shock to the system for most riders.
"It's not often your hands cramp after the stage." - Ted King (Cannondale - via Twitter).
"Nobody was out there saying 'it's a beautiful day'." - Bissell's Carter Jones.
"I had cramps at the end, but I sprinted through the cramps." - Third place finisher Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
"The temperature was unbelievable." - Stage winner Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil).
"It was too hot for the first day. I think everyone was no good today." - Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy).
Riders went through dozens of bottles, downing as much water and electrolyte drink as they could, but the best they could hope for was to stave off the cramps and keep themselves out of a deep hole for tomorrow's stage to Palm Springs, which promises to be even hotter.
"I drank as much as I physically could. We had ice packs from the team car and it still wasn't enough," said Carter Jones, the day's mountains classification leader. "I still have a headache, feels like I'm hung over!"
"The heat was brutal. It was definitely the hardest part of the day."
That statement comes from a rider who spent 145km off the front of the race over three climbs, one of which was the 1600m summit on Palomar Mountain. Jones wasn't in the move to start, but bridged up to it and succeeded in taking the polka dot jersey. "Coming from Boulder it's still winter there. We haven't done anything like this all year.
"It was a little cooler on the climb, but coming down to the finish it was like a sauna," Jones said. He coped with the heat not just by drinking plenty of fluids - most riders took on 10-12 bottles, but also by pouring cold water over his head and getting ice bags to put on his neck from the team car. "Everytime you poured a bottle on yourself you were rejuvenated."
His breakaway companion James Stemper (5 Hour Energy) took the same strategy, but felt for his teammates who weren't so lucky to be in the breakaway with easy access to the team car.
"I had an ice pack on my neck all day in the break. I felt sorry for the guys in the back who didn't have a team car with them all day. I dumped probably 11 bottles on me."
Jones was philosophical about the heat, saying it is the same for all the riders, but isn't looking forward to having to go through it again tomorrow.
"I tell myself I'm not hot and kind of go with it. Nobody's out there saying 'it's a beautiful day'
The race organisation's medical officer Ramin Modabber said that there were no health incidents caused by the heat amongst the riders, in part thanks to the actions of the race officials who opened up feeding from the cars early and closed it late in the stage.
"The race officials are careful in stages like this because normally they won't allow feeding for 50km into the race. When it's this hot, they let them feed earlier so they can come back and get more bottles. They typically stop feeding at 20km to go, but today it was 10km, we're cognizant to keep riders safe."
With an even harder stage on tap tomorrow, and temperatures soaring to nearly 110 on the pavement, the riders will be doing their best to recover from today's draining stage and keep cool ahead of the first decisive finishing climb to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - 6.4km of 10% gradient in the blazing desert heat.
"We just have to get the guys back to the hotel and get them hydrated up, get them treated, and we'll start all over again tomorrow," said Optum assistant directeur Eric Wohlberg, whose rider Marsh Cooper was also in the breakaway. "Tomorrow is going to be some vicious heat out there too in the desert, so we'll see. We're just going to start the guys out with a five-pound block of ice on their back and they'll just ride with that."