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.”

 

Ferdy Kuebler, 1950 Tour de France champion, dies at 97

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LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.

The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.

Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.

Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.

For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.

In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 570 kilometers (356 miles) and more than 14 hours in the saddle.

Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.

Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.

“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.

Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.

World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.

“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.

An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.

He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.

In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.

He finished the 4,773 kilometers (2,983 miles) 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.

Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.

After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.

Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.

“I always said if I came back to earth – which I hope will happen – I would be a cyclist again,” he said.

New Zealanders join Lance Armstrong in early morning ride

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Several hundred cyclists turned out Tuesday for an early morning ride with Lance Armstrong, who is in New Zealand to film a commercial for a local brewery.

Armstrong issued an invitation by social media to join him cycling around Auckland’s waterfront and a crowd estimated at up to 1,000 turned out.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling in 2013 after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Armstrong told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that he was glad to know he still has some support.

New Zealand’s Lion Breweries has confirmed it brought the 45-year-old Texan to New Zealand. In an internal staff email, the brewer said “we are using Lance to tell a cautionary tale called `The Consequence’, which depicts how much you stand to lose when you pursue success at all costs.”

“We wanted to highlight that actions have consequences and we couldn’t think of anyone better to demonstrate that than Lance,” the email said.

Armstrong arrived in Auckland on Sunday from Houston, telling reporters he is in New Zealand on business but has bought his bike and golf clubs.

He took part in a ride later that day with a small group including New Zealand Ironman triathlon champion Cameron Brown.