In a stage shortened by 26km, in line with the UCI's Extreme Weather Protocol, only a selection of sprinters and overall GC contenders had their minds on glory during stage 3 of the Santos Tour Down Under. For the majority, simply surviving the stage without any ill effects of the 45-degree Celsius temperatures was the priority.
The scorching weather in South Australia offered a real risk of heat stroke, sunburn and dehydration for those just spectating on stage 3 of the WorldTour opener. For those racing, fluid intake, core temperature control and skin protection all needed to be managed carefully throughout the stage simply as a matter of safety.
French-registered AG2R La Mondiale welcomed Cyclingnews into their team car for the day to sit alongside directeur sportif Laurent Biondi, mechanic Michaël Szkolnik and team general manager Vincent Lavenu, for an insight into how supporting the squad is the order of the day.
A short drive out of Adelaide, stage 3 began in the seaside town of Glenelg where temperatures were already in the high-thirties. Minutes before the stage was even underway, medical assistance was required at the start line for a spectator who had passed out in the extreme heat.
While this announcement was being read on the public-address system, AG2R La Mondiale DS Laurent Biondi, likely unaware of the situation metres away, talks through the stage with veteran domestique Stijn Vandenbergh and the remainder of the team liberally apply sunscreen and make any final kit adjustments ahead of stage start.
Each of the seven riders for AG2R La Mondiale began the stage with two full bidons and by the time the squad crossed the line in Victor Harbor 120km later, more than eighty bottles had been passed from the team car to the riders.
A cool box full of ice in the back of the team car kept bottles – half of which were water and the other half a mixture of electrolytes, sugars and minerals – cold. The team's mechanic filled stockings with ice from the cooler ready to pass to riders throughout the race.
The stockings let the cool water run off the ice as it melts, helping to regulate the riders' core temperatures as they race.
The stage took just over three hours to complete and every 10-15 minutes, an AG2R rider dropped back to the team car to collect a round of bottles for their teammates. Water bottles in cages and the front of the jersey, electrolyte mix in the rear pockets and back of the jersey for easier distribution when back in the bunch.
The sheer consumption of bottles meant a rendezvous with the team's other support vehicle mid-way through the race for a resupply was necessary, where dozens of filled and chilled bottles are bundled into musettes and flung through the rear windows of the team car onto our laps.
In the end, the stage ran faultlessly for the team that is one of the longest-standing outfits in the peloton, the first real challenge of the 2018 season completed.