— #TDF2019 on NBCSN (@NBCSNCycling) July 26, 2019
Imagine 155 of the most elite bicycle racers in the world barreling through the Alps, rounding hairpin turns next to steep rock faces, heading directly into a hailstorm in the valley below, with ice pellets thicker than the tires on their bikes blanketing the roadway. The organizers of the Tour de France made the only decision they could on Friday — to stop it immediately for the safety of the riders. Egan Bernal was crowned the winner of the Tour de France on Sunday, riding into Paris on a beautiful evening, but the outcome of the race was arguably changed because of the bizarre weather — including the hailstorm and also heavy rain and mudslides that blocked the road and forced another rare decision — a shortening of Saturday’s stage as well.
Why This Matters: We often think of winter sports like skiing being impacted by warming, but not a summer classic like the Tour de France race. It is extremely rare for any stage of the Tour to be cut short, much less for one to be halted abruptly mid-stage. The extreme heat in France earlier in the week — which did not halt the race — apparently was the perfect set up for the wild weather that forced the organizers to make the adjustments. According to Bob Henson of Weather Underground, “The storms were kicked off by an approaching cold front and upper-level low, and the extreme heat in France appears to have teamed up with low-level moisture to increase the atmospheric instability,” adding that “Wind shear also favored the development of hailstorms.” It is just another way in which severe weather likely caused by the warming climate is impacting global events even in the world of sports.
One for the History Books
This year’s Tour de France will likely be remembered for its unlikely winner and the weird weather that snatched victory away from a Frenchman. As a result of the shorter race, the French rider who held the lead going into Friday’s climb up the Alps fell out of contention, and Columbian Egan Bernal ultimately won.
- Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe let for most of the race until the racers hit the Alps on Friday.
- Bernal, who is accustomed to riding at elevation in his home country Columbia, sped up the final and tallest peak of the race and took a lead, and then that stage of the race ended prematurely.
- Saturday’s shortened course did not leave enough time/distance for the Frenchman to catch up so Bernal was virtually assured the victory by the weather modifications.
Sunday’s final stage by tradition was more of a pedestrian ride until a sprint at the home stretch in Paris, so Bernal, one of the youngest ever to win the prestigious race and the first South American, was able to savor the victory.
H/T to John A for this one.