Cummings wins Tour stage as inflatable device blocks riders

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LAC DE PAYOLLE, France (AP) British rider Steve Cummings won the Tour de France seventh stage which came to a bizarre end when an inflatable arch marking the final kilometer collapsed on Friday.

Adam Yates, a British rider with the Orica team, was hit by the arch and reached the finish with a bloodied chin.

“He was alone when it happened. He could not brake and did a somersault and fell on his face,” Orica sports director Laurenzo Lapage said. “The doctor is seeing him now. His shoulder is aching.”

Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium, who was in a breakaway with Cummings, held on to the yellow jersey he claimed two days earlier.

Overall favorites Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana finished in the main pack during the first stage in the Pyrenees.

Froome, Quintana, and other riders had to lift the arch – known as the “flamme rouge” for the red flag it holds – off the ground and slip their bikes underneath it.

Organizers said they would take finishing times three kilometers from the finish of the 162.5-kilometer (101-mile) leg from L’Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle.

“It won’t make a big difference because there was a downhill and flat portion before the finish,” said Thierry Gouvenou, the Tour technical director. “It was a major incident, but we have the means to deal with it.”

Daryl Impey of South Africa finished second and Daniel Navarro of Spain crossed third, each 65 seconds behind Cummings. However, it wasn’t immediately clear what times they would be given.

In the overall, Van Avermaet leads Julian Alaphilippe by 6:36, with Alejandro Valverde third, 6:38 back.

“I did not plan to be in a breakaway,” Van Avermaet said. “I’m not a good climber, I’m a classic rider, and the big favorites did not see me as a threat. Tomorrow, it will be too difficult with all the climbs, but I’m happy I spent an extra day in the yellow jersey.”

Thibaut Pinot, considered one of the top French contenders, was dropped on the Aspin.

All 198 riders started the stage, marking the first time the entire peloton was still racing this late in the Tour in 103 editions.

The Aspin, which was included in the Tour for the 73rd time, was affronted from its longer southern slope, 12 kilometers at an average gradient of 6.5 percent.

Fresh off his third stage win a day earlier, Mark Cavendish was involved in an early breakaway along with world champion Peter Sagan.

After the Cavendish-Sagan group was caught by the peloton, a 29-man pack featuring Van Avermaet and 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali established a more dangerous lead of five minutes.

However, it was Cummings who attacked first and he rode solo over the summit and maintained a comfortable lead on the ensuing high-speed descent and slight rise to the finish in Lac de Payolle.

Cummings shook his head in disbelief as he approached the line then raised both arms, pumped his fist, and kissed his wrist.

Cummings, a teammate of Mark Cavendish on Team Dimension Data, also won a stage in last year’s Tour.

When the main pack reached the line 4 1/2 minutes later, Quintana and Froome were seen patting each other on the back and talking to each other, likely about the incident with the inflatable device.

The Tour remains in the Pyrenees for the next two days.

Stage 8 on Saturday is a much more challenging 184-kilometer (114-mile) leg from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon featuring four serious climbs, beginning with the Col du Tourmalet, which is so difficult it’s labeled “beyond classification.”

AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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.