2018 Tour de France: Main contenders

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TOUR 2018: A look at the main contenders for the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday in the Vendee region:

CHRIS FROOME

Age: 33

Froome is the undisputed favorite to triumph for a record-tying fifth time after being cleared of doping by the International Cycling Union on Monday.

The Kenyan-born British rider is aiming to join the elite group of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only cyclists who have won cycling’s biggest race five times.

Froome enters the three-week trek on the best winning run of his career.

After his dominant performance to win a fourth Tour last summer, Froome won both the Spanish Vuelta in September and Giro d’Italia in May. That made him only the third rider to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time and the first to achieve the feat since the Vuelta was moved to the end of the season in 1995.

Main assets: Confidence and experience of a proven champion, skills for the high mountains and time trials, and strong support from Team Sky.

Question marks: How is Froome’s stamina holding up after his crash-marred Giro victory and the doping case, which led to months of debate?

NAIRO QUINTANA

Age: 28

A winner of the Vuelta and the Giro, Quintana has planned his season around winning the elusive Tour.

The Colombian scaled back his competition schedule this year and did not compete in the Giro to give him fresher legs at the Tour after he finished a disappointing 12th last year, his worst showing in his five entries in the race.

Quintana twice finished runner-up behind Froome in 2013 and 2015.

He is aiming to become just the eighth rider ever to win all three Grand Tours.

Main assets: An elite climber, on-par with Froome when at his best, he will be backed by a very strong Movistar team that includes Mikel Landa and veteran Alejandro Valverde.

Questions marks: Can he build a big enough lead before the individual time trial in the penultimate stage, given his weakness in races against the clock compared to Froome and other rivals? Or if he falters early, will Movistar shift its hopes to Landa or Valverde?

TOM DUMOULIN

Age: 27

Dumoulin won the 2016 Giro and finished second behind Froome in the Italian race this year.

The Dutch rider won two stages of the 2016 Tour, and came agonizingly close to winning the Vuelta in 2015.

Main assets: A powerful rider who excels in time trials as well as rugged terrain.

Questions marks: Although he has improved in the mountains, will he be able to challenge Froome and the other world-class climbers when it matters? Will he get enough help from Team Sunweb to hang with powerhouses Sky and Movistar?

VINCENZO NIBALI

Age: 33

The only man to win the Tour besides Froome over the past five years, Nibali is also the only other former champion to ride this year.

He joins Froome in that exclusive group of riders who have won the Tour, Vuelta and Giro in their careers.

The Italian won the Milano-San Remo classic in March but skipped the Giro to prepare for what could be his last realistic opportunity to repeat his 2014 Tour win.

Main assets: A champion’s pedigree on every kind of terrain, proven climbing credentials and excellent downhill skills.

Question marks: Does he still have the strength to topple Froome? Can his Bahrain-Merida team give him the support he will surely need?

ROMAIN BARDET

Age: 27

France’s hopes to end a 33-year-long wait for a homegrown Tour champion rest on Bardet.

He has finished on the podium for the last two Tours and won stages in the race in each of the last three editions.

Main assets: Climbing skills and attacking attitude.

Question marks: Can he improve in the individual time trial after struggling last year? And how well will Bardet and his AG2R La Mondiale team hold up on the first team time trial at the Tour after a three-year absence?

Hermans wins Tour of Utah with strong ride in final stage

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PARK CITY, Utah — Ben Hermans finished near the front once more in the final stage of the Tour of Utah on Sunday, allowing him to wrap up the overall title after taking second in the week-long race a year ago.

Joe Dombrowski won the finale, an 83-mile trek that began and ended in Park City, with 24 seconds to spare over a chase group led by Joao Almeida. Herman and Keegan Swirbul were another two seconds back with James Piccoli, one of the main instigators all week, rounding out the top five.

The finish was enough to give Hermans, riding for the Israel Cycling Academy, a 50-second margin over Piccoli with Dombrowski another 42 seconds back in third place.

The 33-year-old Hermans has experienced something of a rejuvenation this season. He won a stage and the overall at the Tour of Austria before taking the second and third stages in Utah.

“It’s really amazing,” the Belgian said. “I’ve been fourth, second last year, and to win – finally first. I really enjoy it here. It’s amazing to ride for these crowds and to be there on the podium in the yellow jersey is really, really nice.”

Travis McCabe won the white jersey awarded to the race’s top sprinter. Piccolli was crowned most aggressive rider, Almeida was top young rider and Hayden McCormick won the mountains classification.

Italian cycling great Felice Gimondi dies at age 76

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ROME == Felice Gimondi, one of only seven cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours, has died. He was 76.

The Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) said efforts to resuscitate Gimondi failed after the Italian suffered a heart attack while swimming on vacation in Sicily on Friday and died the same day.

Gimondi won the Tour de France in 1965 as a 22-year-old in his first year as a professional. He went on to win the Giro d’Italia in 1967, 1969 and 1976, and the Spanish Vuelta in 1968.

“Felice was one of the greatest champions to win great tours, a world championship and important classics while contesting, he alone, Eddy Merckx,” FCI president Renato Di Rocco said. “A great man who marked an era. Italian cycling mourns the passing of one of its pillars.”

Five-time Tour de France winner Merckx told Italian news agency ANSA, “A man like Gimondi is not born every day. With him goes a piece of my life. He was among the greatest ever.”

The other cyclists to win all three Grand Tours are Belgian rider Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault of France, Alberto Contador of Spain, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Britain’s Chris Froome.