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.”

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.