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.”

Little boy goes wild watching dad in Tour de France

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Bauke Mollema wasn’t the only one putting on a show at the Tour de France.

Mollema received plenty of support back home as his son went absolutely crazy watching his “papa” push to victory in Stage 15. As it is with siblings, Mollema’s oldest son, Julian, was forced to share the spot light as Thomas got emotional watching his dad finally earn a coveted stage win.

Amidst the blood, sweat and tears that have made up the 2017 Tour de France, Mollema’s adorable 2-year-old son, Thomas gave the internet something to smile about.

The Tour de France has “always been the most important race for [Mollema]” and his dreams came true when he had an impressive break away to solidify the first stage win of his career.

Clearly, Mollema was not the only one excited for his first victory.

 

Cavendish involved in nasty crash after elbow from Sagan

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VITTEL, France (AP) A nasty crash involving Mark Cavendish marred Tuesday’s fourth stage of the Tour de France, which was won by France’s Arnaud Demare in a chaotic sprint finish.

Replays appeared to show world champion Peter Sagan elbowing Cavendish, who was squeezed against the barriers to his right, out of the way. Cavendish slammed into the barriers and two other riders plowed over the British sprint specialist, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

Sagan, who crossed the line second, was later given a 30-second penalty that relegated him to 115th place on the stage. As a result, he dropped from second place in the overall standings to 15th.

“I get on with Peter well, but I don’t get … if he came across is one thing, but the elbow. I’m not a fan of him putting his elbow in me like that,” Cavendish said.

“A crash is a crash, I’d just like to know about the elbow, really,” Cavendish added. “I’d just like to speak to him about it.”

After the crash, Sagan went over to see how Cavendish was and patted him on the back, while the British rider showed him his wounds.

The Slovak said later he had apologized to Cavendish.

“It’s not nice to crash like that,” Sagan said.

“It’s the sprint. I just didn’t know that Mark is behind me, he’s coming from the right side,” Sagan added. “Mark was coming pretty fast from the back and after I just didn’t have time to react, to go left, and he just came (into) me and after into the fence.”

A medical team quickly ran out to treat Cavendish, jogging into the oncoming stream of riders to reach him.

When Cavendish was finally helped to his feet, his jersey was badly torn and blood was streaking down his side. Cavendish rode in with a teammate after treatment, gingerly holding his right arm close to his body, with his right hand in a bandage.

It’s already been a difficult year for Cavendish, who came down with mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus in April.

Demare’s sprint victory ended a long wait for the home fans, with the previous French victory in a bunch sprint at the Tour being won by Jimmy Casper in Stage 1 in Strasbourg in 2006.

“It’s extraordinary, it’s marvelous,” said Demare, the French champion who finished second to Marcel Kittel in the mass sprint that concluded Stage 2.

There was another crash earlier that delayed Tour leader Geraint Thomas, but the Welshman retained the yellow jersey since it happened in the neutral zone near the stage finish.

Thomas leads Sky teammate and three-time champion Chris Froome by 12 seconds, with third-place Michael Matthews of Australia also 12 seconds back. Sagan is now 43 seconds adrift.

Thomas scraped his knee but said it was OK.

“I hit the deck but I’m fine,” Thomas said.

Demare clocked nearly five hours over the largely flat 207.5-kilometer (129-mile) route, which started and finished in two spa towns, Mondorf-les-Bains in Luxembourg and Vittel in France.

“We’ve been working with Arnaud for a long time on sprints,” said Marc Madiot, manager of Demare’s FDJ team. “Winning in the Tour is the best.”

After Sagan’s penalty, Alexander Kristoff moved up to second place in the stage, with Andre Greipel in third.

After starting in Mondorf, the hometown of 2010 Tour winner Andy Schleck, one of the first towns along the route was Schengen, where an agreement was signed in 1985 that enabled passport-free travel in mainland Europe.

Then it was a long, fairly straight slog through fields of grain, passing near the medieval city of Nancy into Vittel, home of the official mineral water supplier for the Tour.

It was the race’s third consecutive stage of more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) and when Guillaume van Keirsbulck, a Belgian with the Wanty team, attacked from the starting gun there was no reaction from the pack.

Van Keirsbulck quickly built a lead of more than seven minutes before being caught with less than 17 kilometers to go.

“A really hard day,” Van Keirsbulck said. “It’s not easy to stay in the front.”

Stage 5 on Wednesday concludes with the first serious climb of the Tour. The 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) leg begins in Vittel and winds its way to La Planche Des Belles Filles with a short but steep finishing ascent that features a leg-breaking 20-percent gradient in the final meters. All of the overall favorites should swing into action.