Peter Sagan claims Tour de France yellow jersey after Stage 2 win

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CHERBOURG-EN-COTENTIN, France — World champion Peter Sagan made the most of a steep, short climb in a frenzied finale to win the second stage of the Tour de France and claim the race leader’s yellow jersey on Sunday.

Sagan, who pulled on the coveted shirt for the first time, used his power on the 1.9-kilometer Cote de la Glacerie leading to the finish line to claim the win.

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, who started the final sprint, was second in the 183-kilometer stage between Saint-Lo and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin in Normandy, with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde in third place.

A debutant at the Tour, Alaphilippe made his move on the left side of the road. Sagan waited patiently in his wake before timing his acceleration to perfection to overtake the Frenchman and win by a bike’s length.

“I’m very surprised I won because I was thinking there were still two guys in front,” said Sagan, who did not celebrate as he crossed the line. “The team today made a very big job. Roman Kreuziger did the last climb full gas and in the final I did my best — for third place… It’s unbelievable. I’m already wearing a very nice jersey, but yellow is something special.”

Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who crashed for a second consecutive day, was dropped in the final climb and lost 48 seconds.

Belgian Jasper Stuyven, who was part of an early breakaway group that formed after the start of the stage, almost thwarted Sagan’s plans when he tried to go for a solo win, but was reined in with 500 meters left.

Overnight leader Mark Cavendish finished just behind BMC co-leader Richie Porte, who was among the big losers of day, crossing the finish line 1 minute and 45 seconds behind Sagan after a puncture.

Cavendish started the day with a four-second lead over Marcel Kittel, with Sagan in third place, six seconds behind. The Slovak rider now has an 8-second lead over Alaphilippe, with Valverde in third place 10 seconds back.

Chris Froome, last year’s Tour winner, is fifth overall after Sunday’s stage, 14 seconds behind Sagan.

All 198 riders took the start in Saint-Lo under grey skies but Cavendish brought a splash of color to the scene.

Wearing yellow for the first time, the Briton marked the special occasion with a customized bike featuring yellow handlebar and pedals.

Stuyven and three other riders immediately broke away from the peloton on slippery roads near the English Channel as rain started to fall. Paul Voss, Vegard Breen, Cesare Benedetti and Stuyven built a lead of about six minutes before the peloton started to pull them back.

Voss, who spent most of the opening day at the front of the race, was made to pay for his efforts and was dropped in the climb to the summit of the Cote de Montpinchon.

He managed to rejoin the leading group while a crash split the main peloton in two after 60 kilometers. Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez and Contador, who suffered cuts and bruises on his right shoulder in a crash during Stage 1, were among the riders caught up in the incident.

Contador fell on the same shoulder and was forced to change bike. He was helped back into the pack by five Tinkoff teammates as the pace slowed down at the front.

“It’s not ideal but he’s fine,” Tinkoff sports director Sean Yates said. “It’s not good to fall two days in a row, but we hope this was the last time.”

There were some broad smiles on the riders’ faces as the sun finally broke through the clouds with 100 kilometers left, drying the roads and warming bodies in the peloton.

The pace in the bunch barely moved until 55 kilometers to go when Cavendish’s Dimension Data outfit started to push forward.

The peloton’s chase started a bit late, as the final battle shaped up with rain falling again and Stuyven almost upseting all the favorites.

“I felt a little bit empty on the steep part,” said Stuyven, who made his breakthrough last year when he won a stage at the Spanish Vuelta. “Unfortunately, I was 450 meters short.”

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.