SAINT-ETIENNE, France — After a chilly start to the race, temperatures are starting to soar on the Tour de France, with another sweltering day in the saddle for race leader Vincenzo Nibali as he safely protected his overall lead during Stage 12. Others were not quite so fortunate and there were several spills as riders hit the burning tarmac at high speeds.
Here are five things about the Tour on Thursday:
DRINK UP: Stage 12 was the hottest so far on the race. Air temperatures crept up to 29 degrees (84 F) and the road temperature rose to 57 C (135 F) by mid-afternoon because of the heat off the tarmac, according to daily statistics provided by Tour organizers. Australian Richie Porte is used to riding in the heat when he competes in the Tour down Under in January during the Australian summer. Still, his Sky team manager Dave Brailsford is taking no risks with his team leader. "The hydration, keeping the body in its optimal condition, is a bigger challenge the hotter it gets," Brailsford said. "You have to be a little bit more vigilant with your drinking and make sure you don't get caught out." With the heat set to continue in the mountains on Friday and Saturday, hydrating properly is paramount. "It gets to a certain point from a temperature perspective that, if you do get caught out, you can't get away with it — and we're starting to get into those temperatures now," Brailsford said.
REMEMBERING KIVILEV: Shortly before the end of Thursday's stage to Saint-Etienne, riders were given a painful reminder of how dangerous their sport is. About 2.5 kilometers (1.4 miles) from the end, they rode on the Andrei-Kivilev Roundabout — which is named in honor of the Kazakh rider who died in Saint-Etienne 11 years ago. In March 2003, Kivilev died at the age of 29, falling from his bike following a collision and cracking his skull on the second stage of the Paris-Nice stage race. He was not wearing a helmet. The International Cycling Union subsequently made the wearing of hard helmets compulsory. Kivilev is fondly remembered in Saint-Etienne, where he rode for the EC Saint-Etienne team early in his career.
BUSY DOCTORS: The stage proved to be busy for Tour medical staff — with doctors treating a range of problems including sunburn, stings and nausea. A total of 10 riders sought medical assistance on a blistering hot day, during which Dutch rider Bram Tankink got badly sunburnt. The sun attracted the wasps, and Swiss rider Michael Schar was stung by one, while Spaniard Benat Intxausti had to stem a nosebleed, and Italian Alessandro Vanotti struggled with what organizers described as digestion trouble. Others had much worse to deal with after heavy crashes. Spanish rider David De La Cruz Melgarejo broke his right collarbone and was taken to hospital he misjudged a turn. Meanwhile, German sprinter Andre Greipel injured his right shoulder. and Belgian Sep Vanmarcke had cuts to his right leg and shoulder.
PEAKING FORM: American rider Tejay van Garderen feels he is peaking at the right time — which is just as well with such tough climbs ahead. The American is ambitious he can earn a podium place. "That's the goal," he said. He sits in sixth place, about 4 minutes adrift of Nibali and a little over one minute behind third-place Alejandro Valverde of Spain. "I feel really good right now," he said. "We're going to see a few people start to crack and hopefully I'm not one of them." Van Garderen hoped to continue his tussle with fellow American Andrew Talansky, who was also tipped as a podium candidate pre-race. But Talansky pulled out on Thursday after a grueling 11th stage where he rode alone for hours with excruciating back pains. Van Garderen said: "I feel really bad for him, he obviously had some really good form. It's sad to see a compatriot go out like that."
MOUNTAIN HIGH: Friday's 13th stage from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse is the first of two grueling mountain treks as the race heads into the Alps. The day's first climb is a Category 1 of about 14 kilometers (9 miles) up Col de Palaquit and has a gradient of 6.1 percent. Cat. 1s are the second toughest category in terms of classifying the difficulty of mountain passes. The second climb is longer and steeper — a daunting ascent of 18 kilometers (11 miles) with a gradient of 7.3 percent — and is known as an "Hors Categorie," meaning that it is beyond classification. That should get Nibali warmed up for Saturday, when the stage has two Cat. 1s and a huge HC of 19 kilometers (12 miles) up Col d'Izoard, one of the Tour's more well-known mountain passes. "I'm more afraid of the second Alpine climb than the first one," Nibali said. "In the first one, everyone's got energy. But the second one requires more effort." The three mountain stages in the Pyrenees that follow next week are even tougher.