Cavendish laments diminished chances for sprinters at Tour

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SAINT-LO, France — Not too long ago, a successful Tour de France for Mark Cavendish meant coming away with a handful of victories.

Not anymore. And not only because German rivals Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel have taken over as cycling’s top sprinters.

“The sprint opportunities are less,” Cavendish said on Thursday, lamenting how Tour organizers have created more challenging routes in recent years with more hilly stages in the opening week, as opposed to the purely flat opening stages that the race once started with.

“In 2008, it was 18 Cat (category) 2, Cat 1 and HC (Hors Categorie, beyond category) climbs in the whole Tour de France. Last year, there was 18 in the last week. This year, there’s 28 Cat 2, Cat 1 and HC climbs,” Cavendish said. “It’s quite an increase.”

He won four stages in 2008, six in 2009, five each in 2010 and 2011, and three in 2012. But over the last three races, he has won a total of three stages, and just one last year.

While the first three stages this year – highlighted by Saturday’s scenic opening leg from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach – set up well for sprinters, the route gets hilly from the fourth day onward.

“It makes more people win, which is good for the sport but it definitely changes our approach,” Cavendish said. “You don’t go with a nine-man leadout team to the Tour de France anymore unless you’re happy with just a couple of stage wins.

“There’s a longer list of GC (general classification) contenders than there ever was. And the teams are built behind them. That makes it very difficult for the sprinters.”

The 31-year-old British rider, nicknamed the “Manx Missile,” joined South African team Dimension Data for this season after shoulder surgery in September. He withdrew during last year’s race with ruptured ligaments in his right shoulder.

Cavendish prepared for the Tour by opening his season in February, and has raced constantly to mixed results – winning one stage each in the Tour of Qatar, Tour of Croatia, and Tour of California. He finished second to Adam Blythe in the British championships last weekend.

“It’s been completely different. I used a lot of racing to build up my endurance,” Cavendish said. “I really don’t know how it’s going to be. It could be the best thing in the world. It could be the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

With 26 career stage wins in the Tour, Cavendish sits third on the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault (28).

He’s aiming for early and late wins this year, especially on the concluding stage in Paris.

“The biggest stage in the world,” Cavendish said, “is the Champs-Elysees for a sprinter.”

 

After Giro win, Froome quickly changes focus to Tour

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ROME (AP) Now that Chris Froome has wrapped up the Giro d’Italia title, his focus will quickly switch to matching the record with a fifth Tour de France title – unless a doping case gets in the way.

Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

Froome maintains he has long struggled with asthma.

“I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said after lifting the Giro trophy Sunday .

“Obviously the next challenge for me has got to be the Tour de France,” Froome added. “I’m already thinking about it.”

Still, it remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case, which could result in a lengthy ban.

“We’ve been focused on the race here and we’ll look at that in the weeks to come,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford told The Associated Press.

No rider has achieved the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.

“I’ve got to celebrate what an amazing victory this was but I’m definitely going to keep things tidy tonight thinking about recovering from this,” Froome said. “I really think it’s possible.”

There are six weeks between the Giro and Tour, so Froome will need to carefully calibrate the balance between rest, recovery and training.

“There’s a difference between physical and mental rest and switching off completely,” Brailsford said. “The trick here is to stay in the same gear but obviously you got to recover and then get fresh enough to be able to go again. Switching off totally and relaxing totally is not the way to do it.”

With one more Tour title, Froome will match the record held by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Lance Armstrong had won seven Tour titles but was stripped of them all for doping.

With the Tour starting a week later than usual because of the soccer World Cup in Russia, Froome has the luxury of extra time to prepare.

Sky sporting director Nicolas Portal said Froome would likely follow the Giro with one week of rest, then a training camp at altitude followed by high-intensity training.

The Tour runs July 7-29 and Froome plans to inspect some of the course before it starts.

“We’ve got a few more (stages) to do, then obviously we want to work a little bit on the team time trial and we’re probably going to go through the cobbles again,” Brailsford said. “There’s a bit of work to be done.”

Besides the usual mountain stages, this year’s Tour features a team time trial in Stage 3, a 35-kilometer (22-mile) route starting and ending in Cholet in western France.

Stage 9 could also be tricky, with 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) altogether.

“He’s pretty confident about it, actually,” Brailsford said. “He’s happy on the dirt, he’s happy on a mountain bike and I think he’ll be happy on the cobbles.”

 

Froome effectively seals Giro title in penultimate stage

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CERVINIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome effectively sealed victory in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday by holding his only remaining challenger in check up the final climb of the three-week race.

The four-time Tour de France champion takes a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin into Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome and is poised to win his third consecutive Grand Tour, matching the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

Dumoulin attacked Froome multiple times on the finishing climb of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) leg from Susa to Cervinia but in five attempts wasn’t able to gain any ground. After Dumoulin’s fifth attack, Froome responded with an acceleration of his own and dropped Dumoulin briefly.

Spanish rider Mikel Nieve of the Mitchelton-Scott team won the stage with a long, solo breakaway to celebrate his 34th birthday.

The concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometer (71-mile) leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the center of Rome.