TOUR DE FRANCE 2016: A look at the overall contenders

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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.

 

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.