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.

 

Andy Rihs, Swiss owner of cycling, soccer teams, dies at 75

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Andy Rihs, a Swiss businessman who owned the BMC Racing cycling team and Young Boys soccer club, has died. He was 75.

Rihs died Wednesday in Zurich after “a patient and valiantly endured illness,” the BMC team said Thursday in a statement.

“Our grief is indescribable, but we will carry on his values,” the team said, praising Rihs for his “generosity, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”

Rihs’s death comes with Young Boys close to winning its first Swiss league title in 32 years. Young Boys leads by 11 points with six matches left.

“Andy, thank you for everything. We will miss you,” Young Boys said in a statement.

Rihs’s brother, Hans-Ueli, is also an owner of the club and Stade de Suisse in Bern, known locally as Wankdorf. The stadium staged the 1954 World Cup final.

As BMC owner, Rihs secured a Tour de France title five years after his previous team was involved in a doping scandal. Cadel Evans of Australia wore BMC’s black and red colors to victory in the 2011 Tour.

In 2006, the Rihs-backed Phonak team disbanded after American rider Floyd Landis was stripped of the Tour title.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.