Jarlinson Pantano wins brutal 15th stage of Tour de France

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CULOZ, France — Colombian rider Jarlinson Pantano won the brutal 15th stage of the Tour de France through the Jura mountains after a long breakaway on Sunday.

Pantano outsprinted Polish rider Rafal Majka to the finish line in Culoz.

On a day featuring hardly any flat stretches, there were plenty of attacks but only a few skirmishes between the main contenders. Race leader Chris Froome finished slightly more than three minutes behind in a group including the other main contenders and kept the yellow jersey.

Majka, who started an early breakaway soon after the start in Bourg-en-Bresse, moved away on his own in the final of six categorized climbs on the day’s agenda.

A third-place finisher at the Spanish Vuelta last year, he accelerated in the punishing 8.4-kilometer climb of the Lacets du Grand Colombier to drop Pantano. But Majka made a mistake on the descent and allowed his rival to rejoin him.

The two breakaway riders did not collaborate well on the flat roads to the finish, with Majka refusing to take relays. They were almost caught by Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz, who finished third, six seconds back.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Pantano, who rides for the IAM team. “I had good feelings today, I knew that if I was able to join him in the downhill I had good chances. And in the end the best rider won.”

Froome kept his 1:47 lead over Dutch rider Bauke Mollema intact, with Adam Yates in third place overall, 2:45 back. Colombian climber Nairo Quintana lags 2:59 behind.

After Majka and Ilnur Zakarin attacked on the first climb, a group of 30 riders gathered at the front. With no overall contender in the leading pack, Froome and his Team Sky teammates seemed happy with the breakaway and did not chase.

On a constantly undulating course, Dutch rider Dylan van Baarle made the most of the lack of cooperation in the breakaway to try his luck soon after the feed zone but was quickly joined by Tom Dumoulin, who countered him in the Cote d’Hotonnes.

The move sparked a reaction from former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, who jumped out of the chasing group alongside Pantano and Alexis Vuillermoz.

The quartet was caught at the foot of the grueling ascent of the Grand Colombier, with the peloton of main favorites 8:30 back. Featuring some very steep ramps at an average gradient of 6.8 percent, the 12.8-kilometer climb was too much to take for Nibali, who immediately got dropped.

Majka and Zakarin once again accelerated and reached the summit with a 30-second lead over Julian Alaphilippe, who caught his rivals in the technical downhill to Anglefort but saw his hopes of victory destroyed by a crash. The Frenchman escaped unscathed and was back in the race with a spare bike.

Back in the pack of favorites, Astana riders moved to the front to set a faster tempo. The sudden change in pace left Froome unfazed while Yates was seen struggling at the back. American Tejay van Garderen could not follow and dropped to eighth overall, 4:47 behind Froome.

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.