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.

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.