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2017 Tour will scale all of France’s mountains

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PARIS — For the first time in 25 years, all five mountain ranges of continental France will feature in next year’s Tour de France, in a stretched-out endurance test of racing that smiles on the climbing strengths of defending champion Chris Froome and his Colombian rival, Nairo Quintana.

In their quest to keep the 113-year-old race young, Tour organizers have again unearthed fresh challenges from the geography of France for the three-week slog, with new climbs and, on stage 18, an unprecedented mountain-top finish on the punishing Col d’Izoard high in the Alps – a rocky, hostile and lunar terrain that could be the final big battleground for the winner’s check of 500,000 euros ($550,000).

“That’s going to be one of the really decisive stages,” said Froome, the race winner for Team Sky in 2013, 2015 and again this year.

Before that, on stage 12 in the Pyrenees, the Tour climbs to the Peyragudes ski station where parts of the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” were filmed in 1997.

From its July 1 start in Dusseldorf, Germany, to the July 23 finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the 3,516-kilometer (2,185-mile) route will wind over climbs in the Vosges, Jura, Massif Central, Pyrenees and Alps. Not since the Tour of 1992 have organizers made riders take on all five mountain ranges.

“It looks hard,” said Australian rider Richie Porte, who finished fifth for the BMC Racing team this year.

The toughest climbs – graded two, one and unclassified on cycling’s rising scale of difficulty – will be slightly fewer next year: 23 in total compared to 28 this year and 25 in both 2015 and 2014. But they will be scattered across a 14 day-spread, rather than being concentrated in two blocks in the Alps and Pyrenees, and will include six especially teeth-grindingly steep ascents. The Col du Grand Colombier in the Jura has 22-percent gradients. Riders will have to arrive at the Tour in good climbing form, and maintain that strength, to compete for the title.

With just three mountain-top finishes, including the Izoard, that are so often decisive on the Tour, title contenders like Froome may have to also race hard on other terrains to shake off their rivals.

“It could make the race a lot more tactical in the mountains,” Froome said. “It opens the door up for people to be more aggressive.”

Just five days in, the 198 riders will face the relatively short but very sharp shock of climbing to the Planche des Belles Filles ski station in the Vosges, with leg-searing 20-percent gradients, in eastern France.

“The first big shake-up,” Porte said.

With little time for riders to catch their breath, the Tour then swings south for more climbs on stages eight and nine in the Jura, before crossing France to the west.

The peloton will spend one very long day – 214 kilometers (133 miles) – followed by one short one – 100 kilometers (62 miles) – in the Pyrenees. The race then heads north again to the Massif Central range, where climbs and possible strong winds up high could catch out unwitting riders on stage 15 to Le Puy-en-Velay, part of it on roads so off the beaten track that they don’t appear on some maps.

“The sort of stage where we can hope for unusual things to happen,” said race director Thierry Gouvenou, who helped draw up the route.

Two individual time trials – the first over 13 kilometers (8 miles) on day one in Dusseldorf; the last, over 23 kilometers (14 miles), on the penultimate stage in Marseille – will bookend the Tour before the finish in Paris but promise to be too short to be decisive in the overall outcome.

“It’s very light on time trials, so, for sure, the race is going to be won or lost depending on what happens in the mountains,” said Froome, who named two-time runner-up Quintana first among his list of expected rivals. “I’m going to have to be as good as I can be in the mountains. That’s going to be my focus.”

In a remarkable piece of showmanship on the final stage in Paris, the riders will race through the iconic Grand Palais, a giant steel-and-glass structure built for the world’s fair in 1900, on their way to the sprint finish on the Champs-Elysees, with the aim of highlighting one of the sites that could be used for Olympic events if Paris wins its bid to host the 2024 Games.

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.”