PURPOSE: Assess the health status and heat preparation strategies of athletes competing in a World Cycling Championships held in hot ambient conditions (37°C, 25% relative humidity, wet-bulb-globe-temperature 27°C) and monitor the medical events arising during competition.
METHODS: 69 cyclists (~9% of the world championships participants) completed a pre-competition questionnaire. Illnesses and injuries encountered by the Athlete Medical Centre (AMC) were extracted from the race reports.
RESULTS: 22% of respondents reported illness symptoms in the 10 days preceding the Championships. 57% of respondents had previously experienced heat-related symptoms (cramping most commonly) while 17% had previously been diagnosed with exertional heat illness. 61% of the respondents had undergone some form of heat exposure prior to the Championships, with 38% acclimating for 5 to 30 days. In addition, several respondents declared to live in warm countries and all arrived in Qatar ~5 days prior to their event. 96% of the respondents used a pre-cooling strategy for the time trials and 74% did so before the road race (p<0.001), with ice vests being the most common. The AMC assessed 46 injuries and 26 illnesses in total, with three cyclists diagnosed with heat exhaustion.
CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of previous heat illness in elite cyclists calls for team and event organisation doctors to be trained on heat illness management, including early diagnosis and rapid on-site cooling. Some cyclists had been exposed to the heat prior to the Championships, but few had a dedicated plan, calling for additional education on the importance of heat acclimation. Pre-cooling was widely adopted.