This year's Mellow Johnny's Classic – the annual mountain bike race organised by Lance Armstrong's bike shop – kicked off amid unusually hot weather, even for late May in Texas.
Mid-day temperatures pushed 38°C (100°F) and were coupled with high humidity, intense sun and relatively calm wind – perfect conditions for heat exhaustion.
Racers took extreme measures to try to stay cool as a result, not just during the race but also beforehand. The simplest solution was trying to do as little as possible prior to the start and then exercising care not to expend too much energy – and generate too much heat – once the race got going.
"Just moderate the pace," said Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). "Once we get moving it shouldn't be too bad but I'm mostly just trying to stay cool right now before the race. Also, ice the drinks and get them as cool as possible. I usually have an ice vest but we don't have the team trailer here."
The Subaru-Gary Fisher team riders used pre-chilled vests to stay cool before the start
Subaru-Gary Fisher riders including 2009 winner Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski were well equipped, though, with the full team trailer. Rather than his usual pre-race warm-up, Horgan-Kobelski instead did an abbreviated routine prefaced by a long stint at the team pit area with ice-filled zip-lock bags stuffed down the back of his jersey plus a cooling vest on top.
"I'm sitting here drinking water instead of warming up right now because it's already so hot," he said just minutes before the start. "Really in the race, the most important thing is to meter your effort because you'll never recover today, drink a lot and consistently, and honestly, try not to think about it. It's not really that hot out here, right?"
Katerina Nash (Luna) had ice bags stuffed down the back of her skinsuit to ward off the heat
In many cases, those ice packs weren't just used before the race. Team support staff clipped the corners of the bags so melting ice dripped down the riders' backs to help keep them cool as the race progressed.
Still, that wasn't enough for Horgan-Kobelski and others. Double bottle hand-ups were common, with one meant for drinking and the other intended to dump on their head and torso. Giant's Carl Decker even went so far as to take a full gallon-sized jug of water from his support crew – and poured the entire thing on himself before reapplying the gas.
Carl Decker (Giant) douses himself with water to maintain a reasonable core temperature
Those cooling strategies clearly paid dividends. In the men's race, the early leader ultimately fell more than two minutes back by the end of the first lap – and as Horgan-Kobelski predicted, never looked to recover from his early effort. And in the women's race, Kelli Emmett was as far back as sixth late in the race before surging all the way up to second.
"I put ice bags on my hands and feet instead of my core. It seemed to really help to keep my cool," she said. "I also had ice stuffed into all of my jersey pockets. I went hard enough to get a good start but I knew people were going to start coming back if they went too hard. So many people come backwards [in those conditions]. This was probably the second-hottest race I'd ever done."
Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) tries to cool down after finishing her race
For more on the racing at the Mellow Johnny's Classic, including full results, see Cyclingnews.com.