MOUNT DIABLO -- At the summit of Mount Diablo on Tuesday, at the end of the hottest, steepest and most grueling stage of the Amgen Tour of California, pro cyclist Lawson Craddock reached behind his back, dug into his jersey and pulled out his secret weapon: a pair of sopping wet women's panty hose.

He had filled the leggings with ice and enjoyed the long, slow melt to the finish.

Over two mountain ascents and 108 scorching miles, "it's a perfect trick to stay cool," said Craddock, who's from Texas and ought to know.

From the pros with panty hose to the recreational riders who chugged up the mountains to stake out a spot -- preferably in the shade -- to watch the third stage of the prestigious weeklong race, beating the Bay Area's near-record heat Tuesday was the challenge of the day.

A cyclist sprays water on himself as a bunch of riders make the turn at the Junction Ranger Station during Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California cycling
A cyclist sprays water on himself as a bunch of riders make the turn at the Junction Ranger Station during Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race in Mount Diablo State Park, Calif., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group) ( SUSAN TRIPP POLLARD )

"There's definitely a culture in biking of suffering," said Quintin Mecke, 41, of San Francisco, who left hours before the racers to climb the 18 miles to the top of 4,360-foot Mount Hamilton. "How much pain can you take and still call it enjoyable?"

By noon, as the racers whizzed past Lick Observatory at the top of Mount Hamilton, the temperature had reached the mid-80s. When the riders descended into the steamy Livermore Valley, the mercury hit the 90s. But once they climbed to the top of 3,849-foot Mount Diablo at about 3:45 p.m., riders were rewarded with temperatures in the 70s.


Advertisement

The highs in the Bay Area on Tuesday were nowhere close to what many of competitors experienced in Palm Springs last year, when temperatures reached higher than 110 degrees on an uphill finish. But race officials and sponsors this year were prepared. Nutrition firm Scratch Labs had a special motorcycle carting 24 water bottles to the riders and a trailing vehicle with 65 gallons of water to refill them.

"Heat was a big factor, especially for me since I'm from Denmark," said competitor Nicolai Brochner. "This was brutal, but I live to fight another day."

Bradley Wiggins, who maintained his overall lead and his yellow jersey despite falling behind the leaders at the end of Tuesday's Stage 3, said the heat "made it tough for everybody. I don't think anybody had it easy out there."

While temperatures in the Bay Area are expected to reach even higher on Wednesday, Stage 4 of the Amgen tour will be cooler as riders follow the scenic Highway 1 down the coast from Monterey and Cambria.

For the recreational riders who rode up Mount Hamilton or Mount Diablo to watch the race Tuesday, it was a four-water bottle day with a squirt on the neck along the way.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Shapiro of San Jose carried just two. When he reached the top of Mount Hamilton about 20 minutes before the racers, the first thing he asked for was a fountain.

"The last five miles I didn't have water, and it's all I thought about," said Shapiro, who started with a dozen biking buddies who met Tuesday morning at La Dolce Velo ("the sweet ride") bike shop in San Jose. "I had tunnel vision for water. Your skin is covered in salt, and every breath feels like you're in the ocean."

In Mount Diablo State Park, the Junction Ranger Station along the ascent became an oasis of sorts to dozens of amateur riders, who stopped at one of the few faucets working in the park thanks to drought-related water shortages.

"I can feel the heat," said Kirsten Cherry of Walnut Creek, who joined other Amgen volunteers riding their bikes up the mountain well before the pros. "I'm definitely riding in a lower gear today, but I'm doing fine, and I'm prepared to make it without any problem."

Steve Hainlen from St. Paul, Minnesota, had followed the first three stages of the race and planned to hit Stage 4. He rode his bike 14 miles from the south park boundary near Danville before starting to walk for a prime viewing spot.

"This is normal Minnesota summer heat, believe it or not, but I wish I would have brought a hat," Hainlen said. Seeing the pro riders is humbling, he said. "I've been interested in riding since I was child, and seeing them ride like this -- these guys are out of this world."

But the heat brought even the best down to earth.

"It was a hard one," said Kiel Reijen of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team. "The guys just blew up in the heat."

Thank goodness for panty hose.

With parasol in hand, Alethea Ballard, of Walnut Creek, waits near the summit of Mount Diablo State Park for Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California in
With parasol in hand, Alethea Ballard, of Walnut Creek, waits near the summit of Mount Diablo State Park for Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California in Danville, Calif., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group) ( Doug Duran )

Staff writer Elliott Almond contributed to this report. Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at Twitter.com/juliasulek.