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Key stages on the 2017 Tour de France route

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PARIS (AP) With 21 stages, 23 tough climbs in five mountain ranges, three mountain-top finishes and two time trials, the route for the 2017 Tour de France, unveiled Tuesday in Paris, promises an array of challenges for the wide variety of skill sets in the professional cycling peloton.

Here is a quick look at what to look forward to at the 104th edition of cycling’s greatest race:

OFF WITH A BANG: At just 13 kilometers (8 miles), the opening time trial on Day One in Duesseldorf, Germany, is short enough for a good number of riders to harbor ambitions of winning it and becoming the first wearer of the race leader’s iconic yellow jersey – a guaranteed highlight of any rider’s career.

It also isn’t long enough for riders who are strong against the clock, like defending champion Chris Froome, to open up big gaps over weaker time trialers like key rival Nairo Quintana.

That is good for fans, because it will mean the race isn’t decided early on, but perhaps not so good for riders. With most of them still in contention after the time trial and full of nervous energy, they will race hell for leather over the next three flattish stages, increasing the likelihood of crashes that could take out top contenders.

SPRINTERS SHINE: Sprinters like Mark Cavendish, who can hit speeds of 70 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour) over short distances, will be looking for victories on the stages between Duesseldorf and Day 5, when the Tour veers sharply uphill in the Vosges – spiky, hilly terrain where bulkier, muscly sprinters struggle. They will get more opportunities for victories in Burgundy wine country at the end of week one, in week two before the Pyrenees and, of course, on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees boulevard at the end of the final stage in Paris on July 23.

OUCH, THIS HURTS: In their perpetual quest to innovate at the 113-year-old race, Tour organizers have slightly cut down on the quantity of climbs in 2017 but ratcheted up their steepness. Six particularly steep ascents stand out, starting with 20-percent gradients up to the Planche des Belles Filles ski station in the Vosges in eastern France. Froome won the stage there in 2012. The Col du Grand Colombier, in the Jura mountains on stage nine, has the sharpest gradients next year – 22 percent, steep enough to burn out the clutches of reporters who follow the race by car if they’re not careful.

Also in the Jura are the 15-percent gradients of the Mont du Chat, last climbed by the Tour in 1974.

“One of the hardest climbs in France,” says Tour director Christian Prudhomme.

Other gradients of note are 16-percent slopes to the Peyragudes ski station and 18-percent stretches on the Mur de Peguere, both in the Pyrenees, and a 14-percent section on the Col de Peyra Taillade, on stage 15 in the Massif Central.

QUEEN STAGE: Every Tour has a stage that stands out for its difficulty and the drama that is expected to generate, the so-called “Queen stage.” Next year that appears to be the unprecedented mountain-top finish at the Col d’Izoard in the Alps. The lunar and hostile terrain of sun- and snow-scorched rocks and the thinning mountain air on the long climb to an altitude of 2,360 meters (7,742 feet) could make the Izoard, at the end of stage 18, the last big battleground among surviving contenders for the winner’s check of 500,000 euros ($550,000).

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: The 23-kilometer (14-mile) time trial in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on the penultimate stage 20 should settle overall rider placings before the largely ceremonial final ride into Paris the next day. The clock-race will start and finish in the Velodrome Stadium that is home to the city’s football team, and will scoot through the Old Port, with a short climb to the white basilica that overlooks France’s second-largest city.

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.”