Outdoor sports leagues often have to contend with the capricious ways of mother nature. From rain to snow, to intense heat and cold, athletes are often asked to perform in conditions that are far from ideal. In some cases, extreme weather may even cause an event to be delayed or canceled. Rarely, however, does it put athletes at direct risk of bodily harm.
Yet that was what had happened earlier this month during the second stage of the French cycling event, Critérium du Dauphiné. Almost without warning, cyclists found themselves scrambling for cover from a devastating hailstorm. Here we take a closer look at that freakish event and its effect on the racers while also highlighting some other wild sports weather instances throughout the years.
A freak weather event
The Critérium du Dauphiné is an annual road race is held each year continuously since its inauguration in 1947. The 2020 event consisted of five stages, each consisting of a single day’s riding. The event, which this year was postponed from early June to mid-August due to the coronavirus pandemic, covered a total distance of 817.5 kilometers, or 508 miles.
The hailstorm that interrupted this year’s race took place on the second day, as riders were nearing the second stage. The race’s leaders had already gotten across the day’s finish line, although most of the peloton was still in the final stretch. The skies broke open and giant chunks of hail starting raining down on the riders with little warning.
The effects of the hail
The hail was roughly the size of ping-pong balls. Worse still, it came down in a fast, dense sheet that gave the cyclists little time to react or seek shelter. And because they were already in an aggressive, nearly horizontal riding position, the cyclists quickly found their backs bearing the brunt of the sudden downfall. According to one eyewitness, the hail storm turned the race into “total chaos and mayhem.”
Most riders quickly got off their bikes and fled for shelter in their team buses. Yet many of them still came away with significant injuries from the hail, which was large enough to leave dents in rider’s helmets. The most visceral image came courtesy of Belgian cyclist Tim Declercq, who posted a shirtless photo on Instagram. It shows that his back is almost entirely covered with fat red welts caused by the pelting hail.
The cyclists weren’t the only ones threatened by the storm. Because the cyclists were nearing the race’s finish line, many spectators were lining the roadsides. Those spectators found themselves with even fewer options than the riders when it came to seeking shelter. Those with umbrellas huddled beneath them, while others scattered toward the protection of nearby trees.
Other examples of crazy sports weather
The Critérium du Dauphiné’s freak hailstorm was hardly the only example of crazy weather interrupting a sports event. A massive mudslide brought the 19th stage of the Tour de France to a screeching halt just a year before.
Meanwhile, the 2014 Winter Olympics faced a far different weather oddity: excessively warm weather. The event, held in Sochi, Russia, was highly unusual, as temperatures remained above freezing for the entire run. Officials were forced to recover the courses with man-made snow continuously.
Major League Baseball set an uncomfortable record during the 1997 World Series between the Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians. Game four, held in Cleveland, set a record for the coldest World Series game ever played. Air temperatures hovered around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, although it was more like 18 degrees once you factored in windchill.
The NFL can boast of having experienced one of the most visually striking weather events. During the 1988 NFC divisional playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, a dense blanket of fog descended on the field. Players couldn’t even see as far as the first-down markers, yet officials insisted the game go on. Not surprisingly, neither team scored another touchdown before the end of the game.