'Your body just shuts down': Giro Donne riders struggle as bike computers claim max of 51ºc

Average of 44ºc leaves riders 'hyperventilating' and feeling unable to 'get enough air'

Christine Majerus (SDWorx) tries to cool herself down during stage four of the 2022 Giro Donne
Christine Majerus (SDWorx) tries to cool herself down during stage four of the 2022 Giro Donne
(Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty)

“I love the north and the rain!” Francesca Pisciali smiled as she got back on her bike. Moments earlier she had been slumped against the barriers, a team staffer trying to cool her down. But when an ambulance reversed up to her she slowly got up.

Behind her the podium presentation for stage five of the Giro Donne was almost over. Elisa Balsamo had taken the cheers of the crowd and Annemiek van Veluten was about to get her maglia rosa.

“I don’t like sun,” a red faced Pisciali, who comes from Bolzano, close to the Austrian border laughed as she rode slowly off to find her Mendelspeck team vehicles.

It’s been a hot Giro Donne. You might expect July temperatures to be high in Italy, but this year has been exceptional, especially in the north. Only this week the Italian government declared a state of emergency after the worst drought in 70 years. This covers the north of the country, including Monday’s host town Cesena, and the remaining five stages.

While riders have to cope in whatever conditions they encounter, and some deal with it better than others.

After finishing stage four into Cesena Canadian Magdeleine Vallieres Mill (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) posted a picture on her Instagram story showing a maximum temperature of 51º recorded by her bike computer during the stage, which was won by Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), and an average temperature of 44º.

Madeleine Vallieres Mill's screen shot from her stage four data

(Image credit: Magdeleine Vallieres Mill)

While these temperatures are likely to be in the sun as opposed to the regular way of ensuring temperatures in the shade, they are extreme.

“It was very, very crazy,” she told CW while sheltering from the sun by her team bus on Tuesday morning. “It’s really, really hard, you’re trying to push your body and your body’s producing heat by working out, so it’s just being amplified.

“Your power goes down around 15-20% and with heat like this your body just shuts down and your heart rate is higher. Everything is harder.”

Her team mate British Abi Smith came to Italy straight from a rainy nationals in Scotland. “The heat has been pretty ridiculous going from nationals where is twas just 15º to 50º [here], it’s crazy and I’ve not adapted at all. I think I’ll be thankful if I make it to the end.

“You're hyperventilating and you can't get enough air because every everything's affecting your breathing and your respiratory rate, and everyone's heart rates as well. We have to drop the power to match the heart rate, and it's really difficult because you you look at the Wahoo and think ‘I'm only doing so many watts on this climb’ but your lungs and your heart say no. We’re at max, you can't do any more.”

The inability to perform in hot conditions obviously affects riders’ results. DSM’s French climber Juliette Labous came to Italy looking for a good GC, but was under pressure from the heat from the start, eventually finishing 11-07 down.

“Normally, I'm kind of okay, but yesterday was just extreme and it was a bit too much for me,” the 23 year-old who recently won the Vuelta a Burgos explained. “I felt the power was crazy high but it was not and I just overheated.

“Your heart rate is going high and staying high, even if you reduce your power. And after the race I had pain in my lungs, it was really hard to breathe.” And all this despite hot baths and heated turbo rides to prepare. “It can happen like this.”

And afterwards? “You have to keep drinking with some salt and minerals because I'm a salty sweater. I don’t know exactly how much I had after, but 1.5- two litres."

While temperatures are now expected to settle in the low to mid 30s one question remains

“When is it hot enough for the extreme weather protocol?” asked Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope).

When indeed? Most riders didn’t know who the safety representative for the riders’ union, the CPA (Cyclists Profesionnels Associés) was for the race, and one who did said she hadn’t seen her.

We emailed the association but received no response prior to publication.

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Owen Rogers

Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.