TOUR DE FRANCE: 5 key stages to look out for

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Five stages to watch in the 21-leg Tour de France, which starts on Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel and ends on July 24 in Paris:

STAGE 1, July 2, 188 kilometers (117 miles) from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach (Sainte-Marie-du-Mont) in the Normandy region:

The Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage Benedictine abbey perched on a rock off the Normandy coast, will provide a picture-postcard start for the race as the Grand Depart returns to home roads after visits to Britain and the Netherlands in the last two years.

The first stage ends at Utah Beach, where Allied troops landed on D-Day in 1944.

Following the coastline for long stretches, wind could play a big role, with the possibility of splitting the peleton. In the end, though, sprinters are expected to vie for the stage win and the honor of wearing the first yellow jersey.

Germany’s Marcel Kittel and Britain’s Mark Cavendish are the pick of the bunch.

STAGE 5, July 6, 216 kilometers (134 miles) from Limoges to Le Lioran in the Massif Central:

After the sprinters have the spotlight in the opening four legs, this should be the stage where the race really starts.

Featuring five climbs in a constant up-and-down finish, including the 1,589-meter (5,213-foot) Pas de Peyrol, it will mark the first time that the Tour has gone above 1,500 meters this early in the race since the leg-breaking start in 1979, when there were three stages in the Pyrenees over the first four days.

Look for overall contenders Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador to spring into action for the first time.

The Tour won’t be won here but it could be lost.

STAGE 8, July 9, 183 kilometers (114 miles) from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees:

The most difficult stage on paper, featuring the legendary Col du Tourmalet plus three more serious climbs in quick succession – the Hourquette d’Ancizan, the Val Louron-Azet and the Col de Peyresourde.

After hours in the saddle, the leaders will be pleased to take on the high-speed descent from the Peyresourde into the finish in Luchon, which is not highly technical.

Whoever holds the yellow jersey after this stage will have taken a major step toward overall victory.

STAGE 12, July 14, 184 kilometers (114 miles) from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux in the Provence region:

French climbing specialists Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot surely have circled this stage for special attention. Besides containing one of the race’s most famous climbs, the stage will be held on Bastille Day.

Defending champion Chris Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled Ventoux’s barren, 1,909-meter (6,263-foot) peak in 2013.

Ventoux was also the site of an epic contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, and where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 after he used a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.

Heat is usually a factor on the grueling climb up Ventoux and there will be the added factor of wanting to keep something in reserve for the race’s first – and longest – time trial a day later.

STAGE 18, July 21, 17-kilometer individual time trial from Sallanches to Megeve in the Rhone-Alps region:

It’s the Tour’s first mountain time trial since the 2004 race against the clock up l’Alpe d’Huez.

Besides the flat opening four kilometers (2 1/2 miles) and a short descent at the finish, it’s entirely uphill.

While there will still be two more stages in the Alps, this leg could be decisive for overall victory.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”