TOUR DE FRANCE: 5 key stages to look out for

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Five stages to watch in the 21-leg Tour de France, which starts on Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel and ends on July 24 in Paris:

STAGE 1, July 2, 188 kilometers (117 miles) from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach (Sainte-Marie-du-Mont) in the Normandy region:

The Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage Benedictine abbey perched on a rock off the Normandy coast, will provide a picture-postcard start for the race as the Grand Depart returns to home roads after visits to Britain and the Netherlands in the last two years.

The first stage ends at Utah Beach, where Allied troops landed on D-Day in 1944.

Following the coastline for long stretches, wind could play a big role, with the possibility of splitting the peleton. In the end, though, sprinters are expected to vie for the stage win and the honor of wearing the first yellow jersey.

Germany’s Marcel Kittel and Britain’s Mark Cavendish are the pick of the bunch.

STAGE 5, July 6, 216 kilometers (134 miles) from Limoges to Le Lioran in the Massif Central:

After the sprinters have the spotlight in the opening four legs, this should be the stage where the race really starts.

Featuring five climbs in a constant up-and-down finish, including the 1,589-meter (5,213-foot) Pas de Peyrol, it will mark the first time that the Tour has gone above 1,500 meters this early in the race since the leg-breaking start in 1979, when there were three stages in the Pyrenees over the first four days.

Look for overall contenders Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador to spring into action for the first time.

The Tour won’t be won here but it could be lost.

STAGE 8, July 9, 183 kilometers (114 miles) from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees:

The most difficult stage on paper, featuring the legendary Col du Tourmalet plus three more serious climbs in quick succession – the Hourquette d’Ancizan, the Val Louron-Azet and the Col de Peyresourde.

After hours in the saddle, the leaders will be pleased to take on the high-speed descent from the Peyresourde into the finish in Luchon, which is not highly technical.

Whoever holds the yellow jersey after this stage will have taken a major step toward overall victory.

STAGE 12, July 14, 184 kilometers (114 miles) from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux in the Provence region:

French climbing specialists Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot surely have circled this stage for special attention. Besides containing one of the race’s most famous climbs, the stage will be held on Bastille Day.

Defending champion Chris Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled Ventoux’s barren, 1,909-meter (6,263-foot) peak in 2013.

Ventoux was also the site of an epic contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, and where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 after he used a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.

Heat is usually a factor on the grueling climb up Ventoux and there will be the added factor of wanting to keep something in reserve for the race’s first – and longest – time trial a day later.

STAGE 18, July 21, 17-kilometer individual time trial from Sallanches to Megeve in the Rhone-Alps region:

It’s the Tour’s first mountain time trial since the 2004 race against the clock up l’Alpe d’Huez.

Besides the flat opening four kilometers (2 1/2 miles) and a short descent at the finish, it’s entirely uphill.

While there will still be two more stages in the Alps, this leg could be decisive for overall victory.

Sagan cleared by UCI over Tour de France disqualification

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PARIS (AP) The UCI ruled Tuesday that Peter Sagan did not intentionally elbow Mark Cavendish during a sprint finish at the Tour de France in a crash that led to the Slovak rider’s disqualification.

The governing body of cycling said in a statement that it has ended its legal dispute with the three-time world champion, a few hours before a scheduled hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sagan was sent home from the three-week race after clashing with his British rival during the fourth stage. The incident forced Cavendish to abandon with a broken shoulder.

Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team immediately appealed the race jury’s decision to allow its rider to finish the race but the request was denied by CAS.

“Having considered the materials submitted in the CAS proceedings, including video footage that was not available at the time when the race jury had disqualified Peter Sagan, the parties agreed that the crash was an unfortunate and unintentional race incident,” the UCI said.

UCI president David Lappartient said lessons will be drawn from the case and wants a “support commissaire” to assist race jury members “with special video expertise” at the main events of the UCI World Tour from next season.

“The past is already forgotten. It’s all about improving our sport in the future,” Sagan said. “I am happy that my case will lead to positive developments, because it is important for our sport to make fair and comprehensible decisions, even if emotions are sometimes heated up.”

Sagan’s explanation for extending his right elbow into Cavendish’s path was that he was just trying to stay upright. The crash occurred about 50 meters from the end of the stage and Cavendish slammed into the barriers along the road, with two other riders plowing over the British sprint specialist, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

Cavendish said at the time his rival’s move didn’t appear malicious.

“It has always been our goal to make clear that Peter had not caused Mark Cavendish’s fall. This was Peter’s position from Day 1,” Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk said. “No one wants riders to fall or get hurt but the incident in Vittel was a race accident as can happen in the course of a sprint.”

2018 Giro has eight uphill finishes on road to Rome

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MILAN — Next year’s Giro features two individual time trials, eight mountain finishes and eight stages for the sprinters in a balanced route that appears to suit four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who will race in an attempt to win his third Grand Tour in a row.

Organizers unveiled the route of the 2018 Giro d’Italia in a televised ceremony in Milan on Wednesday.

The 101st edition of the race runs from May 4-17 and consists of 21 days of racing, totaling 3,546.2 kilometers (2203.6 miles) with 44,000 meters of vertical elevation.

Here are some aspects of the 2018 race:

CONTROVERSIAL START

A Grand Tour will start outside Europe for the first time, with the opening three stages of the Giro being held in Israel.

Organizers have been forced to navigate a tricky obstacle course, recognizing political sensitivities.

The route will not go through any land considered occupied by the international community – meaning it will circumvent the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as parts of a future independent state.

However, a group of about 15 protesters held Palestinian flags and posters criticizing the Giro outside the building hosting Wednesday’s presentation.

The Giro will start with a 9.7km individual time trial in Jerusalem before two stages set to suit the sprinters – a 167km leg from Haifa to Tel Aviv and then 229km from Be’er Sheva to Eilat.

The race will then transfer to Italy, and the island of Sicily, on an early rest day on May 7.

CAPITAL END

Rome will host the final stage of the Giro for the first time since 2009.

The 11.8km circuit of the center of Rome will be repeated 10 times and take in many historical sites. However, it will not visit the Vatican before the finish line at the Fori Imperiali, under the Colosseum.

It is likely to be more of a procession, with the race decided in the mountains earlier in the week.

“After such a challenging route, we will try to alleviate the pain of the athletes with the beauties of our city,” Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said.

Rome scrapped bids to host the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games because of financial concerns. Raggi was instrumental in the decision the second time and a joke was made during the Giro presentation that she had only accepted to host the Giro finish because organizers would fill the many holes in the city’s roads.

“We are trying to give back to Rome a lot of visibility in sport,” Raggi said. “We want to continue bringing great sports events to Rome.”

UPHILL FINISHES

There are eight summit finishes in next year’s Giro, including those at the end of three successive stages in what will surely be a decisive final week.

This year’s edition had just four, one more than the 2017 Tour de France.

There are three uphill finishes in the first nine days of racing and the first comes on stage six, with a 14.1km climb up the slopes of Mount Etna.

The final mountain stage of next year’s race packs 4,500 meters of vertical elevation into just three climbs and ends with a 19.2km climb in Cervinia.

SCARPONI TRIBUTE

The 11th stage of the Giro will honor 2011 winner Michele Scarponi, who died in a collision with a van during a training ride in April.

The route from Assisi to Osimo will pass by his house.

Scarponi, who was one of the most liked riders on the circuit, had two young twin boys. He died aged 37.

“If I think about Michele I can’t help but smile,” two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali said. “I still miss him. It would have been lovely to have him fighting next to me on the Zoncolan.”

Scarponi was awarded the 2011 Giro trophy after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title because of doping.

“Michele was a friend, thinking about him always makes me smile,” Contador said. “Even if he was exhausted, he’d continue making jokes.”