Froome worried about pure climbers

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SAINT-LO, France —¬†Featuring two individual time trials and a lot of mountains, the Tour de France route suits titleholder Chris Froome very well. The British allrounder, however, believes pure climbing specialists will excel in the heat of the French summer.

“It’s a route that is very much a climbers’ route,” Froome told The Associated Press in a TV interview ahead of the Tour starting at Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday. “Even though we have two time trials, they are very hilly time trials.”

Those two stages take place in the second half of the 3,519-kilometer three-week race. The first one, on Stage 13, is on 37.5 kilometers of rolling terrain in the Ardeche region, and comes a day after the daunting ascent of Mont Ventoux, where Froome made his mark in 2013 for his first Tour triumph.

The second time trial, in the Alps, will be the Tour’s first mountain time trial since the 2004 ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez.

“The guys who climb well should go right in them,” Froome said.

Careful of maintaining a sense of suspense until the very end of the race, Tour organizers have chiseled a well-balanced route with many opportunities for Froome’s main rivals, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, and Fabio Aru, as well as the French duo of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.

The race features 28 mountain passes and four very hard stages in four days in the final week, where the trio of main contenders is expected to be among the leaders and on the attack.

In 2013 and 2015, Froome lost time to Quintana in the closing mountain stages. But he has slightly changed his schedule this year in order to maintain his peak longer, especially as he will be competing in the road race at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

If that different approach bears fruit, Froome should be in a better shape come the third week of the Tour.

“He’s coming up to top form a bit later, and he’ll try to hold onto that through to the Olympics and the second part of the season,” Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford said. “He is in great shape.”

In his quest to become just the eighth rider to win three Tours, Froome will be helped by the strongest team of the field. Team Sky features Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa, Woet Poels, and Geraint Thomas, who will be key assets during the nine mountain stages.

“We’ve got a fantastic team. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my teammates,” Froome said at his team hotel in Normandy. “I feel privileged to be in a position to be leading a lineup of guys like that. Guys who can be leaders in their own right have come here to support me. It’s something that gives me a lot of confidence coming into the Tour de France.”

Brazilian cycling team faces 2nd ban for persistent doping

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AIGLE, Switzerland (AP) Brazilian team Soul Brasil Pro Cycling faces another ban from racing after two more riders were implicated in doping.

The International Cycling Union says the team will be judged by its disciplinary panel which can impose bans of up to one year.

Cycling rules allow teams to be suspended if two riders are caught doping in a one-year period.

In December, the team’s riders were suspended for 55 days after three cases involving the banned blood booster CERA since July. They included Kleber Ramos of Brazil, who competed in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic road race.

The UCI says the latest cases involve biological passport results for Alex Correia Diniz, who is provisionally suspended, and an allegation against Otavio Bulgarelli of tampering with a doping sample.

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.