TOUR DE FRANCE 2016: A look at the overall contenders

Leave a comment

A look at the top contenders for overall victory in the 103rd Tour de France, which starts Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel and concludes July 24th in Paris:

CHRIS FROOME

The overwhelming favorite after his victories in 2013 and 2015, Chris Froome is aiming to join an elite club of just seven riders who have won cycling’s biggest event at least three times.

Born in Kenya and representing Britain, the 31-year-old Froome will be supported by a Sky squad that is considered the sport’s best.

Froome enters in top form, having won the Criterium du Dauphine warmup race – just as he did before his two Tour victories.

With Lance Armstrong having been stripped of his seven consecutive titles, Froome can become the first man to win consecutive Tours since Miguel Indurain took the last of his five victories in 1995.

While often criticized as an ugly rider for his high-cadence seated technique on climbs, Froome’s frenetic pace is often unbeatable once the road tilts uphill.

He’s also an able time trialer, although in 2014 his weaknesses on cobblestones, technical descents and wet roads were exposed.

NAIRO QUINTANA

A pure climber and a two-time runner-up at the Tour, Nairo Quintana is looking to make his breakthrough in the Grande Boucle.

Having finished second to Froome on his Tour debut in 2013 at the age of 23, Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and returned to the Tour in 2015, only to finish second to Froome again.

Small and light at about 130 pounds (less than 60 kilograms), Quintana developed his technique while cycling to school in the Colombian town of Combita, which has an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters (10,000 feet).

Riding for the Movistar team, Quintana will have his eye on the penultimate stage, which ends in Morzine and is the final mountainous leg before the mostly ceremonial finish in Paris.

Fellow Colombian greats Luis Herrera, Fabio Parra and Santiago Botero posted wins in Morzine in 1985, 1988 and 2000, respectively. And Quintana’s first WorldTour victory came in the Alpine town during the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine.

ALBERTO CONTADOR

At 33, this could be Alberto Contador’s last chance to take a third Tour victory.

Last year, the Spaniard with the Tinkoff team made a declared attempt to follow up his Giro victory with a Tour triumph and finished only fifth, acknowledging that he ran out of steam.

This year, Contador has built his entire season around the Tour, finishing fifth in the Dauphine, 35 seconds behind Froome, and winning the Tours of Catalunya and Basque Country.

One of six riders to have won all three Grand Tours, Contador’s record includes two Tour de France wins (2007, 2009), two Giro wins (2008, 2015) and three Spanish Vuelta wins (2008, 2012, 2014).

Contador once seemed destined to dominate cycling. But a failed doping test at the 2010 race for the fat-burning, muscle-building drug clenbuterol punctured his progression. Stripped of his first-place finish that year, Contador has not won the Tour again.

Nicknamed El Pistolero, Contador likes to celebrate his wins with a mock-gun salute using his right thumb and index finger. But after the November terrorist attacks in France, Contador suggested he might abandon the salute at the Tour.

RICHIE PORTE AND TEJAY VAN GARDEREN

Australian standout Richie Porte and top American rider Tejay van Garderen are joint co-captains of the BMC team.

Previously with Sky, the 31-year-old Porte was the top support rider for both of Froome’s Tour wins, and for Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey ride in 2012. Now he has a chance to challenge Froome.

First, though, Porte may have to battle Van Garderen for leadership within BMC.

The 27-year-old Van Garderen was in third place when he had to abandon last year’s race in tears due to illness during Stage 17.

ROMAIN BARDET AND THIBAUT PINOT

Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot represent the best chance to give France its first home winner since Bernard Hinault’s fifth and final win in 1985.

Riding for the AG2R La Mondiale team, Bardet finished second behind Froome in the Dauphine.

FDJ rider Pinot, who placed third in the 2014 Tour, has shown improved time trial performance this season.

FABIO ARU AND VINCENZO NIBALI

At 25, Fabio Aru is attempting to win the Tour on his race debut.

A climbing specialist, Aru won the Spanish Vuelta last year and has also achieved two podium results at the Giro in his short but successful career.

Aru is expecting to be paced through the mountains by fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali on the deep Astana team.

Fresh off a dramatic Giro win where he took the pink jersey on the penultimate stage, Nibali is meant to use the Tour as preparation for the Olympics.

But having won the Tour in 2014, Nibali could take over team leadership if Aru struggles.

 

Little boy goes wild watching dad in Tour de France

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.