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Froome calls on skeptical fans to let him ride Tour in peace

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SAINT-MARS-LA-REORTHE, France — Chris Froome has asked Tour de France fans to let him race in peace, even if they doubt the recent ruling that cleared him of doping allegations.

The British cyclist has been targeted by spectators in the past. During the 2015 Tour, he said a man threw a cup of urine at him while yelling “doper”.

With the latest edition beginning on Saturday, five days after the International Cycling Union finally ruled Froome had won last year’s Spanish Vuelta cleanly, the four-time Tour winner offered an alternative way for skeptical fans to show their distrust.

“Support the race in a positive way, don’t bring negativity,” he said on Wednesday in western France. “In terms of safety I obviously would encourage fans of the sport to come watch the race, and if you are not necessarily a Chris Froome fan or a Sky fan, come to the race and put a jersey on of another team you do support. That would be my advice.”

A cloud hung over Froome after a urine sample taken during the Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

After months of silence, the UCI said Froome’s result did not represent an adverse finding, which could have led him to be stripped of his Vuelta victory, and a suspension.

The UCI’s ruling ensured he could compete at the Tour after race organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it would forbid Froome from entering until the doping case was decided.

His use of asthma medication has been well documented and he often uses inhalers during races. World Anti-Doping Agency rules state an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.

Froome said he understands it may take time for fans to believe he is not a cheat.

“But that data is available, and I would like to think that as people understand that more, they will understand my decision to keep on racing knowing I have certainly done nothing wrong,” Froome said. “Of course it has been damaging. As it is right now I’m just happy to draw a line in the sand and move on and focus on bike racing.”

UCI president David Lappartient has also issued a call for calm.

“(Froome) has the right to operate in a safe environment. I have heard calls, sometimes completely irrational, to violence on the Tour de France,” Lappartient said. “I cannot accept that and I call on all spectators to protect all the athletes and to respect the judicial decision so that Chris Froome can compete in a safe and serene environment.”

Teammate Geraint Thomas said Froome has shown poise even when fans are at their worst.

“I’ve always been impressed by the way he is off the bike,” Thomas said. “But the last nine months have been the most impressive, really, how he was able to still perform and train and commit to all that while everything else was going on.”

Thomas, however, said possible run-ins with the public are part of riding down roads lined by people, most of who are there to cheer on the athletes.

“It’s not like football – it’s not in just a closed stadium when you can check everyone,” he said. “So there is that element of risk so to speak.”

Froome is aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.

Sagan takes third win at Tour, Thomas keeps lead on Stage 13

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VALENCE, France (AP) After most of the other top sprinters at the Tour de France succumbed in the Alps, Peter Sagan was in prime position to dominate Friday’s flat finish.

Cycling’s world champion did not disappoint, timing his move to reach maximum speed as he swung past two challengers to claim Stage 13 by a wheel length and take his third win of this race.

Seconds after Sagan reasserted his status as the most feared finisher left on the Tour, overall leader Geraint Thomas safely crossed in the pack along with teammate – and nearest challenger – Chris Froome.

Behind about 20 riders with a kilometer to go, Sagan charged to overtake runner-up Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare, who finished third, at the finish line.

Sagan’s 11th career win at the world’s biggest bike race came after he was the fastest to the line in bunch sprints on Stages 2 and 5.

This time, Sagan was racing against a field of sprinters greatly depleted by three grueling days in the mountains.

Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen, who both won two stages on this Tour, along with Andre Greipel all abandoned the race on Thursday, while 30-stage winner Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel failed to make the time cut on Wednesday.

Sagan said their absence made sprinting “messy.”

“It’s changed,” he said. “Everybody wants to do a sprint now. It’s pretty messy.”

Facing no attacks on the flat stage, Thomas had no trouble maintaining his advantage of 1 minute, 39 seconds over defending champion Froome.

Tom Dumoulin stayed third overall at 1:50 behind. Primoz Roglic was fourth at 2:46, and Romain Bardet was fifth at 3:07 back.

After overzealous fans marred Thomas’ win on Thursday atop the Alpe d’Huez, the otherwise complete calm of Friday’s leg was briefly disturbed by a man on the roadside who tossed a smoke bomb into the center of the peloton as it passed by with 16 kilometers left.

Thomas said he didn’t see the smoke bomb which, besides spitting out yellow fumes, appeared to do no harm.

As for the jeers directed toward him and Froome by fans skeptical of Froome’s clearance from doping allegations days before the start of the Tour, he said it was part of being in the spotlight.

“I would rather be on the podium and be booed than be on the bus and have everyone cheering me,” Thomas said.

Thomas did ask for fans to not interfere in the race after Froome was slapped on the back going up Alpe d’Huez and contender Vincenzo Nibali was forced to quit after he broke a vertebra when knocked to the ground by a police motorbike tasked with keeping back the crowd.

The 169.5-kilometer (105-mile) leg starting from Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez delayed the resolution to the burning question of this race: Is Thomas really Sky’s top option while Froome seeks a fifth Tour title?

Thomas has said that although he would work to support Froome, he is not going to intentionally lose time.

But with Thomas so far proving to be the stronger rider even in the mountains where Froome normally makes his mark, their team appears ready to let the road decide.

“We’ve got two cards to play and it’s good for our strategy,” Sky sports director Nicolas Portal said before Friday’s stage.

“Who knows how long (Geraint) can hold this top level? Same for Froomey. The most important thing is the group is strong and we have the best position.”

Saturday’s Stage 14 is a hilly 188-kilometer trek from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Mende as the race makes its way to the Pyrenees Mountains.

And Froome seems eager for the action to return.

“Tomorrow we can see some good battles between the favorites,” Froome said.

Associated Press writers Andrew Dampf and Ciaran Fahey contributed

More Tour de France coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/TourdeFrance

Chris Froome happy as Tour de France heads for the mountains

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ANNECY, France – Chris Froome believes the mountains will reveal the true Tour de France contenders as he looks forward to the first of three grueling stages in the Alps.

“I’m feeling good and optimistic about the upcoming stages,” the four-time champion said on Monday, the Tour’s first rest day.

Froome, who is eighth overall after nine stages, is 1 minute, 42 seconds behind yellow-jersey holder Greg Van Avermaet before the first Alpine stage on Tuesday.

Van Avermaet is not expected to be a threat in the mountains, and Froome suggested the Belgian “will find it difficult to hang on tomorrow. It’s a proper climbers stage.”

After an opening week of relatively flat routes, the first significant ascents begin with four categorized climbs as well as the punishing Montee du plateau des Gileres, which features a six-kilometer climb at an incline of 11.2 percent.

“It’s a tough stage. It will definitely start shaping the GC,” Froome said of the general classification.

Sky teammate Geraint Thomas is second overall, 0:43 behind Van Avermaet, meaning the team has two viable options to claim the yellow jersey over the second week of the three-week Tour.

“It’s great for us to have those options to play when it comes down to it, especially looking at some of our rivals who have got two or three options in their team,” Froome said.

“The team around us is such a capable group of guys, and we’re really going to be coming into our element now in the mountains.”