Slush puppies and women’s tights: how Tour de France riders keep cool

Low budget and hi-tec; riders at the Tour de France turn to some innovative solutions in the heatwave at the Grand Depart of the 2015 Tour de France.

It might be an all male peloton that rolls out of Utrecht this weekend, but the 2015 Tour de France could get through its fair share of women’s hosiery during the Grand Depart in the Netherlands.

Teams have turned to women’s tights full of ice to keep cool in the hot conditions, where temperatures have already exceeded 35 degrees and are expected to remain hot and muggy this weekend for the opening 13.8km time trial and Sunday’s 166km road stage to Zealand.

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“The team car has a cool box of cheap pantyhose full of ice and knotted up at both ends, that’s generally how we do it, and that can be a big help,” Cannondale-Garmin rider Jack Bauer told Cycling Weekly at the official team presentation on Thursday.

“Those ice socks help a lot, down your gloves, down your neck, or cubes of ice in your helmet.”

A number of riders and squads resort to this cheap cooling solution, although one trade-off is the process of removing pairs of soggy tights from inside your jersey after a hot stage finish. Just ask Dan Martin, who in 2013 feigned mock embarassment when he pulled out pair after pair of women’s stockings while being interviewed by Cycling Weekly.

However teams can go more a bit more hi-tec ahead of a time trial stage with ice vests, cold showers, giant fans and slushy ice drinks to keep riders’ core temperatures down while warming up.

Ahead of the 54km solo slog against the clock at the end of last year’s Tour de France, held in hot conditions near Bergerac, Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin benefitted from having his pre-race energy drinks put through a second hand slush puppy machine.

“You can easily do slushies that will cool you from the inside,” explained Zak Dempster (Bora-Argon18). “You freeze a bottle, leave it out of the fridge for a bit, and then bang it and tap it a few times and that makes a slushy.

“It’s a good trick for making mojitos as well!”

Staying well hydrated in the heat is crucial, especially at the beginning of a Grand Tour where failing to drink enough in the opening week could have big consequences once fatigue begins to kick in.

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Former U23 time trial world champion Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) estimated that riders could lose a kilo and a half of sweat just on Saturday’s time trial.

“For every kilo you lose, you could lose two or three per cent in terms of performance, so it all counts,” he said.

“In the time trial we’ll warm up using ice vests that actually pump ice through the jersey. It’s a Craft thing, they have tubing that goes through to a generator and they pump ice water through it.”

As with nutrition, adjusting to the heat is a personal thing for professional cyclists. Some riders have already been acclimatising their bodies by heading straight into the sauna following long pre-Tour training rides.

Indeed Bradley Wiggins prepared for the 2011 Vuelta a Espana by turbo training in a garden shed with a fan heater for company. Last year, Sky’s Richie Porte spent the first rest day of the Tour on the turbo trainer in the team mechanics’ truck with the heaters on full blast to help transition from a cool and wet opening week to a hot visit to the Alps.

World champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quickstep) explained that he prefers not to use any ice vests ahead of hot time trials and highlighted the risk of the body getting a shock from going from cold to hot.

“If you stay in a 20 degree cooled bus and then you go straight to the start ramp, it’s not always the best thing to do,” he said.

Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) noted that riding in the heat this early on in the race could mean the hot days in the mountains and the south of France come as less of a shock to the system.

Some riders, however, just like to let Mother Nature take care of things.

“To be honest, I did a trial run the other day when it was 35 degrees outside in the shade and I didn’t use anything,” said BMC’s Rohan Dennis. “Sometimes just sweating enough cools you down.

“If your skinsuit is wet at the start of a time trial, you basically get that air conditioning, although it doesn’t really last for long.”