Van Garderen leads 5-man US contingent at Tour de France

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Tejay van Garderen was third overall in the Tour de France a year ago, just a handful of stages between him and a podium place in Paris, when he pulled to the side of the road and climbed into his team car.

A respiratory infection he had been fighting for days had forced him out of the race.

It was a bitter disappointment for van Garderen, who has twice finished fifth in cycling’s marquee race, but also for American fans waiting for someone to step into the void left by Lance Armstrong.

Perhaps this is the year that finally happens.

Van Garderen will join four other Americans on the start line Saturday in Mont-Saint-Michel, all of them with enough ability to stir things up. In fact, van Garderen and Richie Porte were picked as co-leaders of the BMC Racing Team, which means the 27-year-old from Tacoma, Washington, will have plenty of support.

“I’ve already raced the Tour de France a couple of times with most of these guys, so I couldn’t be happier to line up with them once again,” van Garderen said. “I’m in great shape. I’m really motivated.”

Van Garderen withdrew his name from consideration for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, citing concerns about the Zika virus, with his wife due to give birth in October. That means the Tour is his sole priority.

As if there was any doubt, given the way last year shook out.

He’ll be joined at the Tour by teammate Brent Bookwalter, who will be part of the two-man U.S. squad in Rio. Cannondale Pro Cycling also has two Americans in Lawson Craddock and Alex Howes, despite Andrew Talansky skipping the race because of family concerns and a chronic sinus infection. Peter Stetina rounds out the American contingent for Trek-Segafredo. Stetina, who suffered career-threatening injuries in a crash at Pais-Vasco last year, may have the best feel-good story in the peloton.

The five American riders are two more than a year ago, when the fewest in nearly two decades made it to the start, but still represent a modest total – there were 10 just five years ago.

For various reasons, several of America’s brightest stars are joining Talansky on the sideline.

Taylor Phinney was not part of BMC’s roster, his sights set instead on the Rio Olympics, where he has a chance to medal in the time trial. Tyler Farrar, a stage winner in 2011, was passed over by his Dimension Data team, and Ben King was skipped over by Cannondale despite his strong performance in California.

Still, those on the start list for the Tour have enough ability to make good on their aspirations.

Van Garderen is a legitimate podium threat, especially after his recent stage win in the Tour de Suisse. Bookwalter has a puncher’s chance to win from a breakaway. Stetina will focus on helping Dutch teammate Bauke Mollema in the hills but proved at the Tour of California that he can surprise on any uphill stage.

Craddock, a bright-eyed Texan, and Howes, who like Stetina grew up in the cycling hotbed near Boulder, Colorado, are intriguing youngsters who believe they have something to prove.

“With it being my first Tour it’s hard to place certain expectations on myself,” Craddock said. “Just lining up on the start line of the Tour is a dream come true, so if I were able to wear a jersey there, then I think my mind would just explode. That being said, I’m a born and bred bike racer, and I line up to every race I do with dreams of winning. I’m not just going to the Tour to be pack fodder.”

Not just pack fodder? Sure doesn’t sound like a Tour rookie.

Jonathan Vaughters, who founded the U.S.-based Cannondale team, said French veteran Pierre Rolland will be the pivot-point of his squad. But he didn’t dismiss the 24-year-old Craddock or the 28-year-old Howes from trying to animate the race, especially given their charmingly cavalier attitudes.

“The anticipation of this race is huge,” Craddock said. “I imagine the few days leading up to the start I’ll have a few more nerves than normal, but at the end of the day, it’s just another bike race. The neutral flag goes down on the first stage, I’m sure those nerves will be replaced with pure adrenaline.”

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.”