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Sauna-Like Conditions Sap The Will From Road Racers

Favourites among fall guys as Spaniard Sanchez nets gold

Francois Thomazeau – Updated on Aug 10, 2008

A third of the riders in yesterday’s men’s cycling road race failed to complete the course as the humid heat took a punishing toll.

“It was a sauna out there,” complained Latvia’s Raivis Belohvosciks, one of the first of 53 riders to pull out in the gruelling 245-kilometre course that took the 143-strong field past Tiananmen Square to the Great Wall.

Even the biggest names in the peloton, such as Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador and pre-race favourite Stefan Schumacher, could not handle the conditions and were forced out.

“I just didn’t have any more strength in the legs,” said Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion.

Schumacher, who had shown impressive form in last month’s Tour winning two time-trials, was a shadow of himself and the Great Wall provided little shade for him to rest under.

“I had a terrible headache. I don’t know where it came from. Probably the pollution,” said the German. “It feels like you’re at 3,000 metres because of the air. You cannot breathe. The air is thick and there is smog. But Wednesday is another day and I hope to have recovered for the time trial. Right now, I’m just knackered.”

Many riders said they had no trouble breathing at first, but struggled to recuperate from their efforts in the descents or the easier sections of the circuit.

“It was more than 40 degrees at the start, there was lots of headwind and what with the jet lag, the humidity and the heat, it was extremely difficult,” said young Frenchman Remi Pauriol, who still managed to reach the finish line.

Yet the riders had been warned and knew what to expect.

“I was worried about the weather, the humidity, the heat and possible dehydration,” said gold medallist Samuel Sanchez of Spain.

To adjust to the conditions, special preparation was required. Team cars were packed with water bottles and ice-packs and the leading riders had left nothing to chance, coming to Beijing in advance. “My preparation was very good,” said Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who took the bronze medal despite having no teammate to assist him. “Since the Tour de France, I have been here. Today, the heat had gone a bit compared to last week and it felt much better.”

The 2006 and 2007 world champion made the Games time trial his main goal of the season and, although he was dominated by Schumacher in the Tour, he looks set to reverse the trend thanks to the climate.

Shattered like the rest of the bunch on the finish line, 14th-placed Frenchman Jerome Pineau saw good reason to rejoice in spite of the exhaustion

“I’m really tired right now. But two weeks ago we finished the Tour on the Champs-Elysees, then this morning we were on Tiananmen Square and six hours later at the Great Wall. What a great job this is!” he said.


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