The 2015 Tour de France kicks off on Saturday amid heat and thunderstorms. While the heat will ease by Sunday, the potential for rain will linger longer.
Utrecht, Netherlands, is hosting the start of Saturday's Tour de France, marking a record sixth time the Netherlands are hosting the sendoff.
Utrecht normally boosts comfortable temperatures for cyclists and spectators with a high around 20 C (70 F) common in early July. However, such temperatures on Saturday will be recorded early in the morning before soaring for the afternoon.
A sizzling high of 32 C (90 F) is expected Saturday afternoon, when the Tour de France starts with a 13.8-km (nearly 8.6-mile) time-trial stage through Utrecht. Humid conditions will combine with the heat to create even higher AccuWeather RealFeel® temperatures.
AccuWeather Meteorologist and biking enthusiast Evan Duffey states that Saturday's heat poses the greatest dangers to fans who will be outside all day.
"Being hot will not be a huge factor [for the cyclists during their race] due to the very short stage length. They will be done racing very quickly," stated Duffey.
"For fans, however, who are out and about all day and usually do not move from their spectator spot, it will be important to stay cool, hydrated and wear sunblock," continued Duffey.
After a stray and brief shower dots the Netherlands in the morning, another danger to both cyclists and fans will arise as the heat set the stage for spotty, yet violent thunderstorms to erupt across the Netherlands and neighboring countries Saturday afternoon.
"The thunderstorms will be capable of producing hail, downpours and lightning," stated AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys. As soon as thunder is heard, the threat of being struck by lightning is present. This includes for cyclists.
"Some people may think that the rubber tires on a car help to protect a driver and occupants from a lightning strike, but this is a myth," stated AccuWeather Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger. The same myth applies to bicycles and motorcycles.
The metal frame of a car is what protects the occupants from a lightning strike, acting like a lightning rod and directing the charge to the ground. Without a metal frame offering protection, cyclists are exposed and at risk of being struck.
The rain from any thunderstorm will also have a huge impact on the remainder of the time trials, added Duffey.
"Time-trial bikes are designed to do one thing -- go straight as fast as possible. They already have compromised handling due to frame geometry and ride position," he said. "Any water on the course is almost certainly going to change rider strategy and slow [the cyclists] down, or at least force them to take risks."
Cyclists and fans will once again be faced with the prospect of rain for Stage 2 on Sunday, which runs from Utrecht to Zélande. The danger of thunderstorms will diminish as the race heads eastward toward Zélande into a more stable air mass, but showers will still threaten to dampen the course.
Sunday is likely to be more active in terms of showers than Saturday's thunderstorms, but that will lead to a reduction in heat for the second half of the weekend. Temperatures will range from the middle 20s C (upper 70s F) inland to the lower 20s C (lower 70s F) closer to the coast.
Much better weather then awaits the race on Monday with an area of high pressure in control. Dry weather will prevail, humidity will be comfortably low and temperatures will rise into the middle 20s C (upper 70s F).
With abundant sunshine overhead, spectators and cyclists will definitely want to apply sunscreen or grab a hat before heading outdoors on Monday.
Thunderstorms may return as the cyclists enter France on Tuesday, but there are no signs of the intense heat also making a comeback during the middle and latter part of next week.