IN TIMES gone by elite road cyclists used cabbage leaves to cool themselves when racing in extreme heat. Though the strategy’s unlikely to be employed in the 60th edition of a stage race around Victoria on Friday, a weather forecast exceeding 40 degrees has moved organisers to start a 108-strong peloton on a 148-kilometre journey two hours earlier than originally scheduled.
Stage one, which starts in Sunbury, will now commence at 9:30am, which should have the international peloton featuring some of Australia’s best road cyclists arriving at the Bendigo finish around 1pm.
John Trevorrow, race director of the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour and a one-time pro who employed the cabbage leaf trick once or twice, initiated the change.
"There’s a new rule in Australian cycling which says that above 41 degrees races can be stopped," Trevorrow said.
"If we didn’t change it there was quite a strong possibility the race could be stopped because there’s a good chance it’s going to be above 40 degrees tomorrow afternoon, and that it could hit the mid-40s in Bendigo.
"We didn’t want to take that risk and by starting it two hours earlier we’ll finish at around 1 and avoid the hottest part of the day."
With stage one moving through the towns of Newham, Kyneton, Mt Macedon and Bendigo, the alteration isn’t as simple as herding the riders together earlier. Police, various councils and ambulance crews must be informed and road closures must be rescheduled. For several hours on Thursday morning Trevorrow had a phone glued to his ear in order to make sure it could all happen.
Trevorrow said he hoped that if the temperature soared on Friday the riders would almost be in Bendigo.
"That’s something we’d have to look at it if came to that, but at least starting two hours earlier we’re giving ourselves the best chance of finishing."
Though it would seem a highly uncomfortable exercise to race on open roads in such heat, elite riders tend to prefer hot conditions than colder weather.
"One good thing about Australia is that while it might get hot it’s a clear heat. You get to Europe and you get high-30s and the humidity is more oppressive I believe," Trevorrow, a three-time winner of the Sun Tour, as the Victorian race was once known, said.
"There wouldn’t be a bike rider in there who would rather race in pouring rain. They would rather the heat. In the old days we used to put cabbage leaves on our head, but these days it’s about only one layer of clothing, they won’t wear the undershirts and they will have their jersey undone and flapping, and they will be drinking lots of water and pouring it all over their heads.
"I don’t think it will have much effect on the racing. These riders are used to riding in extreme temperatures either way and very rarely does that affect the outcome or how they race it."