Team Sky fields impressive Tour lineup in support of Froome

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After being cleared of doping, Chris Froome is ready “to make history” in France.

Froome will be on the starting line of the Tour de France on Saturday in the western region of Vendee, aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain in the elite club of five-time champions of cycling’s biggest race.

“The last twelve months have been the hardest but also the most incredible of my career,” Froome said on Tuesday in a statement submitted by Team Sky, a day after cycling authorities cleared him of any wrongdoing despite an abnormal doping test result.

Froome has raced all season under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample provided during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. The International Cycling Union ruled on Monday that his sample results did not constitute a breach to the anti-doping rules and closed all proceedings against the British rider.

The decision also meant Froome will be able to hold onto the Giro d’Italia trophy he won in May, which gave him three straight Grand Tour titles.

“I’ve never started the Tour de France after riding the Giro d’Italia, and it has meant a completely different approach to my season,” Froome said. “But I learnt a lot from riding the Vuelta straight after the Tour de France last year, which has given me confidence coming into this race.”

Team Sky will again field a very strong team in support of Froome, including Egan Bernal, Jonathan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas.

“I want to make history with a fifth Tour de France win and fourth consecutive Grand Tour,” Froome said. “I am under no illusion about the challenge, but I am feeling ready and I couldn’t ask for a better team to support me.”

Aged 21, Bernal will make his Tour debut and will play a key role in helping Froome in the mountains alongside Poels and the experienced Castroviejo, who is also a strong climber. Kwiatkowski, a versatile former world champion, was impressive last year in helping Froome to a fourth title in France, while Thomas can also aim for the yellow jersey if Froome can’t live up to expectations. Moscon is also a Tour debutant who rode in support of Froome at the Vuelta last year.

“We go into the Tour with a lot of confidence. Chris is in great shape after the Giro, mentally and physically, and the whole team wants to build on the success we had in Italy,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “Chris is already one of the greats of the sport. This is a chance for him to cement that reputation even further.”

The Tour starts on Saturday from the island of Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile.

Giro d’Italia to start in Hungary next year

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Giro d’Italia will start in Hungary next year.

The prelude stage will take place in Budapest, followed by two further stages on Hungarian soil.

Giro d’Italia organizers made the announcement on Tuesday at the Italian Cultural Institute in Budapest.

It will be the Grand Tour’s 14th start outside of Italy, with the most recent being in Israel last year.

This year’s Giro d’Italia will begin in Bologna on May 11 and conclude in Verona on June 2.

Gilbert beats Politt to win Paris-Roubaix

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ROUBAIX, France — Veteran cyclist Philippe Gilbert beat German rider Nils Politt right at the end of Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race to win it for the first time.

Gilbert strategically placed himself behind the 24-year-old Politt, and then attacked him down the left to win by about a length after nearly six hours of riding. Belgian rider Yves Lampaert finished in third.

The race is one of cycling’s five high-profile classics, along with the Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia. The 36-year-old Gilbert, a former world road race champion, has won all except Milan-San Remo.

“I still have this dream to win all them. Little by little I’m getting there,” an elated Gilbert said afterward. “Politt’s very courageous. In the end the best rider won, and thankfully it was me.”

Last year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Peter Sagan joined Gilbert and Politt near the front with about 20 kilometers left. But Sagan dropped off, leaving Gilbert and Politt to contest victory as they reached the Roubaix velodrome in northern France.

Paris-Roubaix is known as the Queen of the Classics because it is the most prestigious of the five, which are otherwise known as “monuments” of cycling.

But the grueling and dangerous 257-kilometer trek is also known as the “Hell of the North,” because of its treacherous profile including more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) of cobblestones spread out over 29 sectors.

“A lot of people said cobblestones aren’t for me. But I’ve won Tour of Flanders and now I’ve won here,” Gilbert said. “I rode a good race tactically.”

Belgian cyclist Tiesj Benoot crashed into the back of a Jumbo-Visma team car near the end of Sunday’s race, smashing the back window completely. He was taken to hospital but his injuries were not immediately known.

Last year’s Paris-Roubaix was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Michael Goolaerts, following a crash.