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Aru’s Sardinia, Nibali’s Sicily feature in 100th Giro route

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Sardinia for Fabio Aru. Sicily for Vincenzo Nibali.

The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will pay homage to the country’s two top riders with a start that will include stages on both of Italy’s largest islands.

Revealed Tuesday in Milan, the May 5-28 race will start with three stages in Sardinia to honor Aru, followed by two legs in Sicily for Nibali.

Aru last year became the first Sardinian to wear the Giro leader’s pink jersey, when he finished second to Alberto Contador, while Nibali, a Sicilian, won in 2013 and 2016.

Aru and Nibali were teammates at Astana the past four years but Nibali recently left to lead the new Bahrain-Merida team, setting up a duel in the Giro.

After crossing the Strait of Messina by boat, the race will climb north through Calabria and Puglia and eventually visit all but four of Italy’s 20 regions.

“To celebrate the 100th edition we have to celebrate all of Italy,” race director Mauro Vegni said.

Next year’s race will also include many of the legendary climbs from the Giro’s history, including a finish at Oropa in the northwest region of Piedmont, where Marco Pantani won in 1999, and two ascents in a single stage of the high-altitude Stelvio Pass, near the Swiss border.

There are two time trials – a 39.2-kilometer (24-mile) route through the Umbrian winemaking region of Sagrantino in Stage 10 and a 28-kilometer (17.4 mile) concluding leg from Monza’s Formula One track to Milan’s cathedral.

With four mountain-top finishes and a total of 67.2 kilometers (42 miles) of time trialing, the route could be more challenging than the recently announced 2017 Tour de France, which has only three mountain-top finishes and 36 kilometers (22 miles) of time trialing

Still, Tour winner Chris Froome, 2014 Giro champion Nairo Quintana and two-time Giro winner Alberto Contador have all indicated they plan to focus on the Tour next year.

But the time trials could attract rising Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, who is a specialist at racing against the clock.

Here are some aspects of the 2017 race:

VOLCANIC SLOPES:

After a rest day to transfer from Sardinia, Stage 4 on May 9 starts in the coastal town of Cefalu and features the race’s first uphill finish on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna – where Contador won in 2011.

Stage 10 sets up for sprinters with the finish line in Messina, Nibali’s birthplace, having started in Pedara on the slopes of Etna.

“The finish is really tough, and there’s little vegetation so it can be windy,” Nibali said of the Etna stage. “Getting the pink jersey going into my hometown would be great, but let’s take it step by step.”

Organizers had already announced details of the three stages in Sardinia.

The Giro will set off from the port town of Alghero on an undulating 203-kilometer (126-mile) route along the island’s northern coast to Olbia.

Stage two is a hilly 208-kilometer (129-mile) leg from Olbia to Tortoli, which could also end in a sprint, while the final day in Sardinia is a mainly flat 148 kilometers (92 miles) from Tortoli to Cagliari.

IN VINO VERITAS: For the third consecutive year, the Giro will feature a time trial dedicated to one of Italy’s top winemaking regions.

This year it’s Stage 10 from Foligno to Montefalco through the Umbrian vineyards where the bold, red variety Sagrantino is produced.

Nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length, the undulating stage could have a big impact on the overall standings.

Along the same lines, a 2015 stage from Barbaresco to Barolo celebrated Piedmont’s top wines and a rainy leg this year from Radda to Greve in Chianti traversed the heart of the Tuscan red winemaking region.

HEROES AND LEGENDS

Italian cycling icons Gino Bartali, Ercole Baldini, Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani and others will be remembered with stages in their honor.

Stage 11 runs through the Appenine Mountains after beginning in Pont a Ema, where Bartali was born – directly in front of the museum dedicated to the 1936, `37 and `46 winner.

The next day’s stage starts in Forli, where 1958 champion Baldini was born.

Stages 13 and 14 are dedicated to five-time winner Fausto Coppi. The 13th leg ends in Tortona, where the “Campionissimo” died in 1960 and the next leg starts in Castellania, where Coppi was born in 1919.

Stage 14 concludes with a climb to Oropa, where Pantani posted one of his more memorable victories in 1999.

DECISIVE DOLOMITES

The race will likely be decided in the Dolomites Range in the final week.

Stage 16 figures to be one of the race’s toughest challenges. The stage begins with an ascent of the steep and narrow Mortirolo then the Stelvio is climbed both from the Italian and Swiss sides before a final descent into Bormio. At an altitude of 2,758 meters (9,050 feet), the Stelvio’s peak will represent the race’s highest point – traditionally known as the “Cima Coppi” (Coppi peak).

Stage 18 could be even tougher. While only 137 kilometers (85 miles) long, the race’s showcase stage will take the peloton over four major mountain passes – Pordoi, Valparola, Gardena and Pinei.

The next day features the fourth summit finish at Piancavallo, while the penultimate leg from Pordenone to Asiago includes a difficult climb to Monte Grappa – the scene of fighting in both world wars.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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.