Tour takes to hills as France sizzles in heatwave

·3 min read

As the nation baked in a searing heatwave on Tuesday, the Tour de France moved away from the cauldron-like stone citadel of Carcassonne toward the relative cool of the Pyrenean foothills.

The weather has been a hot topic these last few days for the riders as they plough their way through the French countryside but it has also caused major problems for the organisers.

When the Tour arrived in the south-west on Sunday, tens of thousands of litres of water were used to cool melting roads that reached temperatures of 60C, as the race inched towards the ramparts of the ancient Cathar fiefdom.

Ineos's young gun Tom Pidcock cooled down by leaping into a fountain while Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard and all his Jumbo Visma team wore cooling vests until the very last second before Tuesday's stage got underway.

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia admitted on Monday that the 30C heat on stage 11 had contributed to his own meltdown.

"Suddenly I didn't feel very well," he said. "But I'm getting used to the heat."

But the 149 remaining riders on the world's most prestigious bike race would escape the worst of the heat on Tuesday as the Tour wound into the cooler, higher altitude of the Pyrenees.

The finish-line at Foix, though, was as unbearable as Carcassonne, albeit with screeching cicadas and the odd sunbathing lizard.

- Giant strawberry -

Ahead of stage 16, only 149 of the 172 original members of the peloton remained, many of them dropping out due to brain fog in the heat.

The official road temperature on Tuesday was between 45C and 55C, with only one small stretch of tarmac needing cold water poured onto it. Two days ago 20,000 litres of water were used at the most critical point of melting roads.

The Tour freebie distributing 'caravan', so keenly awaited by fans packed along the route, was blocked when one of the vehicles, a giant strawberry sponsored by a French supermarket, broke down.

"Nothing to worry about," a gendarme told AFP at the scene. "It's normal in this heat."

Beside it, the forlorn driver of a giant orange seemed disappointed when it received instructions to continue along the route alone.

Earlier in the week on a climb to Mende, a police car also overheated and burst into flames, leaving nothing but a burnt out shell within minutes.

Unamused gendarmes declined to comment when AFP asked what had happened.

Temperatures at Carcassonne, which is surrounded by several kilometres of giant stone ramparts, were down to 31C, but will rise towards 38C again on Thursday.

With three days of racing in the Pyrenees the riders took on climbs in the relative comfort of cooler, sheltered forest roads of its foothills at around 1600m altitude.

Local newspaper La Depeche Midi, meanwhile, ran a headline of "Uncontrollable" above a shot of a forest fire in the Bordeaux region where 32,000 people have fled their homes.

Paris was getting the worst of it with a sensational 41C on Tuesday.

dmc/bsp/nr