Getty Images

2017 Tour will scale all of France’s mountains

Leave a comment

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.

Nibali wins Milan-San Remo classic with solo attack

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN REMO, Italy (AP) Vincenzo Nibali carried off a daring solo attack to perfection to win the Milan-San Remo classic on Saturday and add to his long list of major achievements in cycling.

The Italian accelerated away from the pack on the Poggio, the final climb of the 294-kilometer (183-mile) race, with 7 kilometers to go.

Nibali then showed off his downhill skills on the technical descent and narrowly held off a pack of chasing sprinters on the flat finish.

Nibali looked back only once, with 50 meters remaining, and realized he had time to raise his arms in celebration before crossing the line in a time of 7 hours, 18 minutes, 43 seconds.

“I saw I created a gap right away,” Nibali said. “When I looked back it was a special emotion. It’s a race I didn’t expect to win because I’m not (a sprinter).

Caleb Ewan of Australia crossed second and Arnaud Demare of France finished third, both with the same time as Nibali.

Nibali, who rides for the Bahrain Merida team, has also won all three Grand Tours: the Giro d’Italia – twice – the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta.

Always looking for the fastest lines, Nibali at one point came so close to the fences that he knocked a cell phone out of a fan’s hand.

“When I pull these things off sometimes even I don’t know how I’m able do it,” Nibali said.

Mark Cavendish, the British sprinting standout, slammed into road furniture with 10 kilometers to go and flipped over his bike onto the asphalt.

Kwiatkowski wins Tirreno-Adriatico, Dennis takes final stage

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (AP) Michal Kwiatkowski won the Tirreno-Adriatico cycling race Tuesday after an impressive time trial on the final stage, which was won by Rohan Dennis.

Kwiatkowski started the individual time trial with an advantage of three seconds over Damiano Caruso and he was quicker than the Italian rider at every time check.

The Polish cyclist eventually finished 24 seconds ahead of Caruso in the overall standings, with Geraint Thomas third, 32 seconds behind his Team Sky teammate.

“I don’t actually know the final result, just that I won, and that’s all that matters,” Kwiatkowski said. “It was very nervous. When I was warming up it started raining so I was scared something might go wrong.

“I had to go with lower tire pressure. It was tricky … I had to be careful but I had good feelings today and that’s why I could finish so well.”

Thomas lost 36 seconds to the leaders following a mechanical failure during the fourth stage of the seven-stage race.

Dennis was quickest on the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. The Australian, who also won the closing time trial last year, was four seconds faster than Jos van Emden and eight ahead of Jonathan Castroviejo.

“To be honest I was nervous about it,” Dennis said. “I was looking at the best times on the course and was thinking, `What do I need to aim for?”‘