Cavendish laments diminished chances for sprinters at Tour

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SAINT-LO, France — Not too long ago, a successful Tour de France for Mark Cavendish meant coming away with a handful of victories.

Not anymore. And not only because German rivals Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel have taken over as cycling’s top sprinters.

“The sprint opportunities are less,” Cavendish said on Thursday, lamenting how Tour organizers have created more challenging routes in recent years with more hilly stages in the opening week, as opposed to the purely flat opening stages that the race once started with.

“In 2008, it was 18 Cat (category) 2, Cat 1 and HC (Hors Categorie, beyond category) climbs in the whole Tour de France. Last year, there was 18 in the last week. This year, there’s 28 Cat 2, Cat 1 and HC climbs,” Cavendish said. “It’s quite an increase.”

He won four stages in 2008, six in 2009, five each in 2010 and 2011, and three in 2012. But over the last three races, he has won a total of three stages, and just one last year.

While the first three stages this year – highlighted by Saturday’s scenic opening leg from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach – set up well for sprinters, the route gets hilly from the fourth day onward.

“It makes more people win, which is good for the sport but it definitely changes our approach,” Cavendish said. “You don’t go with a nine-man leadout team to the Tour de France anymore unless you’re happy with just a couple of stage wins.

“There’s a longer list of GC (general classification) contenders than there ever was. And the teams are built behind them. That makes it very difficult for the sprinters.”

The 31-year-old British rider, nicknamed the “Manx Missile,” joined South African team Dimension Data for this season after shoulder surgery in September. He withdrew during last year’s race with ruptured ligaments in his right shoulder.

Cavendish prepared for the Tour by opening his season in February, and has raced constantly to mixed results – winning one stage each in the Tour of Qatar, Tour of Croatia, and Tour of California. He finished second to Adam Blythe in the British championships last weekend.

“It’s been completely different. I used a lot of racing to build up my endurance,” Cavendish said. “I really don’t know how it’s going to be. It could be the best thing in the world. It could be the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

With 26 career stage wins in the Tour, Cavendish sits third on the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault (28).

He’s aiming for early and late wins this year, especially on the concluding stage in Paris.

“The biggest stage in the world,” Cavendish said, “is the Champs-Elysees for a sprinter.”

 

Quintana keeps lead but Dumoulin remains pick to win Giro

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ASIAGO, Italy — Nairo Quintana held on to the pink jersey in the penultimate stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday but likely didn’t pick up enough seconds on his most dangerous rival, Tom Dumoulin, to claim overall victory.

Thibaut Pinot of France won the 20th stage in a sprint finish ahead of Ilnur Zakarin of Russia and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali.

Entering Sunday’s concluding time trial, Quintana leads Nibali by 39 seconds with Pinot third, 43 seconds back.

Dumoulin dropped from second to fourth, 53 seconds back, although he still remains the favorite considering his time trialing skills.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with a flat 29.3-kilometer (18-mile) individual time trial from Monza’s Formula One race track to Milan.

Dumoulin already dominated the race’s first time trial in Stage 10.

Quintana reclaims pink jersey with 2 stages to go in Giro

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PIANCAVALLO, Italy — Nairo Quintana reclaimed the pink jersey from Tom Dumoulin with two stages to go in the Giro d’Italia on Friday, setting up what could be a tense finale in Milan on Sunday.

Dumoulin couldn’t keep up with his main rivals in the final uphill finish of the three-week race and trails Quintana, the 2014 winner from Colombia, by 38 seconds.

Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali is third overall, 43 seconds behind Quintana.

With Thibaut Pinot of France fourth overall, 53 seconds back, the top four are grouped within less than a minute.

“It’s pretty complicated. We have to adapt the strategy day-by-day,” Quintana said.

Spanish rider Mikel Landa won the 19th stage in a breakaway, finally tasting victory after two second-place finishes and one third-place result.

Landa required nearly five hours to complete the 191-kilometer (119-mile) route from San Candido to Piancavallo. He finished nearly two minutes ahead of Rui Costa, with Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland crossing third.

On Thursday, Dumoulin criticized the tactics of Quintana and Nibali, saying they were merely racing to make him lose – remarks that earned a sharp rebuke from Nibali.

Before Friday’s stage, Dumoulin apologized to Nibali and the pair shook hands.

If anything, Dumoulin’s comments appeared to have motivated Quintana and Nibali, who temporarily dropped Dumoulin on a downhill section midway through Friday’s stage.

While the Dutchman caught up on the ensuing Sella Chianzutan climb, he didn’t have the legs to keep up on the 15.4-kilometer climb to Piancavallo, which began at an average gradient of nearly 10 percent.

“I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill,” Dumoulin said.

“In the final I tried to limit my losses and I did that very well. My team saved me a couple of times, so I have to thank them. Otherwise it would have been a much worse day. Bad legs today, but I hope they’ll be better tomorrow.”

Quintana wore pink for one day after winning Stage 9. Dumoulin then took control by dominating a time trial in Stage 10 and had led ever since.

Quintana has also finished on the Tour de France podium three times.

The penultimate stage on Saturday is the last mountainous leg, a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Pordenone to Asiago featuring two first-category climbs – a long 24-kilometer ascent to Monte Grappa and a shorter but steeper 14-kilometer rise to Foza.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with an individual time trial from Monza to Milan.

“Tomorrow there will be another important stage and then I’ll give it all in the time trial,” Quintana said.