De Gendt defies windy conditions for prestigious Ventoux win

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MONT VENTOUX, France (AP) Thomas De Gendt hates riding in the wind. With gusts reaching 130 kph at the Mont Ventoux on Thursday, the Belgian rider was worried he might not even reach the finish inside the time limit.

He ended up claiming the biggest win of his career.

De Gendt won the wind-shortened and chaotic 12th stage of the Tour de France on the “Giant of Provence” on Thursday after getting into an early breakaway and easily sprinting past fellow Belgian Serge Pauwels on the steep slopes.

“Usually these stages are the stages I’m the most afraid of because of the time limit,” De Gendt said. “With the wind I was afraid I could drop in the last group and miss the cut for the time limit because I can’t ride in the wind.”

Organizers moved the finish line six kilometers (3 1/2 miles) down the road to the Chalet Reynard because of the wind. It was still a grueling 10-kilometer (six-mile) climb featuring several sections with gradients exceeding 10 percent.

De Gendt, who finished third at the Giro d’Italia in 2012 after posting another prestigious victory at the Stelvio Pass that year, and Pauwels fought for victory from a breakaway group that set off only a few kilometers after the start.

They built a maximum lead of more than 18 minutes before Etixx-Quick Step riders accelerated and split the bunch. De Gendt, who rides for the Lotto Soudal team, benefited from the unexpected help of teammate Andre Greipel, a star sprinter with limited abilities in mountain stages.

After bringing bottles to De Gendt throughout the stage, Greipel attacked at the foot of the Ventoux in a move that forced other riders to show their cards.

“Immediately, we saw who the stronger guys were,” De Gendt said. “And during the stage, he also did most of the pulling in the leading group. Today, he tried to do a little bit more for me. It shows how great Andre Greipel is ready to work for smaller riders.”

De Gendt then attacked with four kilometers left and outsprinted Pauwels at Chalet Reynard to seize the best climber’s polka-dot jersey. A few kilometers behind, race leader Chris Froome was involved in crash caused by a TV motorbike but was allowed to keep the yellow jersey after the Tour race jury ruled he lost time in unfair circumstances.

De Gendt said his next goal will be to win a stage at the Spanish Vuelta in order to complete a full set of Grand Tour stage victories.

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.