TOUR DE FRANCE: 5 key stages to look out for

Leave a comment

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.

After Giro win, Froome quickly changes focus to Tour

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.