Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Unbearable heat punishes Tour of California
Riders wilt in the sun as the Tour pushes through the high desert
The riders who rolled off from Escondido and over Mount Palomar on the first day of the Tour of California faced brutal heat that reduced world champions and grand tour racers to hot, cramping messes.
Day two was worse. The riders left Escondido to start in Murrieta and race across the desert to Palm Springs, climbing a large mountain along the way and finishing up with a punishing climb up the Palm Springs Tramway in San Jacinto State Park. By the time the race was seriously underway, the temperatures had hit triple digits. At one point, the mercury rose to an all-time record 114 degrees for the day.
It was the hardest day of racing that many of the riders had ever faced, a few didn’t even make it to the finish line.
Nevertheless, a small group of four riders (led again by domestic professionals) rode off the front early and stayed away for nearly 100 miles in the burning heat. How’s that for dedication?
After more than four hours of racing, the riders hit the final climb, a three-mile ascent up the tramway. The field splintered into a select group of superstar climbers gunning for the win. In what can only be described as an upset, Janier Acevedo (Jamis Hagens Berman) attacked the favorite (Tejay van Garderen), claiming the win and the overall lead in the process.
But the real story was the riders wilting in the heat, crossing the finish line one at a time and collapsing in the street. Some of the men screamed and cried as they made their final pedalstrokes across the line. If staffers hadn’t been there to catch them, they would have fallen from their bicycles.
A few riders had to be hospitalized for dehydration.
Tour de France winner Andy Schleck said it was one of the three toughest moments in his career.
Jens Voigt, the notorious toughest rider in the pro peloton, called it “sheer agony.”