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.

Little boy goes wild watching dad in Tour de France

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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

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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.