2018 Tour de France: Route highlights

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PARIS — Twenty-one stages, 26 tough climbs across six mountain ranges, three mountain-top finishes and two time trials will test the limits of 176 riders’ endurance and skill in the Tour de France, which begins Saturday in the Vendee area along the Atlantic coast.

Here is a quick look at what the peloton can expect in the 105th edition of cycling’s greatest race, a three-week marathon over a route covering 3,351 kilometers (2,082 miles):

OFF WITH A SPLASH

Two flat stages should provide a fast-paced start as sprinters battle it out for a chance to wear the race leader’s iconic yellow jersey – a highlight in any rider’s career.

Starting on the island of Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile, Stage 1 is a 201-kilometer introduction with gentle gradients to welcome 22 teams of eight riders to the race, and Stage 2 provides another early opportunity to shine.

This is great for spectators as riders will hold nothing back as they fight for the lead before one of the favorites can take over, increasing the likelihood of crashes that can damage top contenders’ chances.

TINKERING WITH TIME

To spice up the start even more, carrots of 3, 2 and 1 bonus seconds will be offered to the first three riders to reach a specific kilometer determined in advance over the first nine stages.

More conventional time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds will be taken off the overall times of the top three in each normal stage of the race (excluding time-trials).

All of the bonuses may result in more changes in race leadership.

Stage 3 is a 35.5-kilometer team time trial in Cholet that could see riders on weaker teams drop behind in the overall standings.

The only individual time trial comes in the penultimate stage and should settle the overall places before the riders point their bikes in the direction of the Champs-Elysees’ cobblestones for the largely ceremonial final stage in Paris on July 29.

HOBBLED BY COBBLES

Most riders hate cobblestones and Stage 9 on July 15 will be sure to test their bonhomie with 15 cobbled paths scattered along 21.7 kilometers of the 156.5-kilometer course from Arras to Roubaix, beside the Belgian border.

While exciting for spectators, the bumpy ride will be a nightmare for many competitors, particularly if the weather is wet or windy. Falls are likely and this stage could end some riders’ hopes of an overall victory.

MOUNTAIN MIGHT

The surviving riders are going to need their rest day in Annecy on July 16 before the Tour heads to the Alps for the first of three testing stages that could reshuffle the standings. All three legs in the Alps feature daunting climbs and frightening descents, culminating in the awe-inspiring ascent up the 21 bends that lead to the famed 1,838-meter high Alpe d’Huez finish on July 19.

Almost half of the mountain climbs will be in the Alps (12), with four in the Massif central and 10 in the Pyrenees, where the Tour will pass through Spain for a brief 15 kilometers. Otherwise, this year’s Tour is exclusively French.

QUEEN QUAKER

This year’s so-called “queen stage” – the stage that stands out for its difficulty and race drama – appears to be the 200.5-kilometer mountain leg from Lourdes to Laruns in the Pyrenees on July 27.

It will provide “a last opportunity for riders to change the general classification,” according to race director Christian Prudhomme.

The route takes in the 1,490-meter Col d’Aspin, 2,115-meter Col du Tourmalet and 1,709-meter Col d’Aubisque, with a steep descent to Laruns providing a challenging finish for riders still competing for the yellow jersey.

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.”