gettyimages-576775532
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.

Ferdy Kuebler, 1950 Tour de France champion, dies at 97

ap_070501010782
AP Photo
Leave a comment

LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.

The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.

Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.

Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.

For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.

In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 570 kilometers (356 miles) and more than 14 hours in the saddle.

Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.

Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.

“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.

Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.

World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.

“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.

An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.

He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.

In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.

He finished the 4,773 kilometers (2,983 miles) 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.

Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.

After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.

Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.

“I always said if I came back to earth – which I hope will happen – I would be a cyclist again,” he said.

New Zealanders join Lance Armstrong in early morning ride

gettyimages-630260696
Getty Images
Leave a comment

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Several hundred cyclists turned out Tuesday for an early morning ride with Lance Armstrong, who is in New Zealand to film a commercial for a local brewery.

Armstrong issued an invitation by social media to join him cycling around Auckland’s waterfront and a crowd estimated at up to 1,000 turned out.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling in 2013 after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Armstrong told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that he was glad to know he still has some support.

New Zealand’s Lion Breweries has confirmed it brought the 45-year-old Texan to New Zealand. In an internal staff email, the brewer said “we are using Lance to tell a cautionary tale called `The Consequence’, which depicts how much you stand to lose when you pursue success at all costs.”

“We wanted to highlight that actions have consequences and we couldn’t think of anyone better to demonstrate that than Lance,” the email said.

Armstrong arrived in Auckland on Sunday from Houston, telling reporters he is in New Zealand on business but has bought his bike and golf clubs.

He took part in a ride later that day with a small group including New Zealand Ironman triathlon champion Cameron Brown.