The organisers of Australia’s premiere road cycling event, the Tour Down Under, should consider starting race stages earlier in the day – or even move the tour away from mid-summer – to help protect cyclists from increasingly extreme heat driven by climate change.
That’s one of the suggestions in a new assessment of the impact and exposure of Australian cycling to global warming by the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub.
Although Cycling South Australia (CSA) has an Extreme Weather Policy that requires events to be cancelled or postponed if the temperature is forecast to reach 37°C, the Tour Down Under is governed by different protocols set by the Union Cycliste International.
An analysis of days of extreme heat across the history of the Tour Down Under shows that if the CSA’s guidelines were in force, individual stages would have been cancelled 15 times.
The research finds that by starting and finishing stages earlier in the day when radiant heat isn’t as intense, race organisers could reduce a major heat stress risk for cyclists.
Under current emissions scenarios, Adelaide will see a significant increase in the number of extreme heat days in January in coming decades.
Extreme heat is a major health hazard for cyclists and can lead to muscle cramps, problems with the nervous system and impairment of coordination and thinking.
The increased risk of bushfires is another concern for cycling, with bushfire smoke known to affect human health; athletes engaged in high intensity sports are especially vulnerable to inhaling polluted air that can negatively affect performance and decrease lung function.
“Climate change is having a big impact on many things Australians love, including sport,” said Suzanne Harter, Climate Change Campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which commissioned the research.
“The Tour Town Under often coincides with heatwaves, presenting health risks for cyclists and spectators. The science warns Januarys in South Australia will keep getting hotter unless strong action is taken to cut climate pollution from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
“If cycling authorities want the Tour Down Under to remain a fixture on Australia’s summer sporting calendar, they should become vocal advocates for strong national and international action to combat the root causes of climate change.”