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Van Garderen embraces No. 2 role for team at Tour de France

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LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France – For years, Tejay van Garderen has been the United States’ best hope of winning the Tour de France.

But for this edition of the world’s biggest cycling race, Van Garderen is tasked with doing all he can for teammate Richie Porte to fight for the title.

“It’s different. It’s certainly less pressure, and when you have a leader like Richie it’s a role that is easy to jump into,” Van Garderen said on Thursday, two days before the race starts in western France.

Van Garderen’s first job will be to do his part on the team time trial on Stage 3. A good result by BMC would boost Porte’s chances of ending Chris Froome’s dominance at the Tour.

His next challenge as his team’s No. 2 will be to protect Porte on the climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees where only the hardiest riders can keep up.

Van Garderen, who finished the Tour of California second in May, showed he can protect Porte in the mountains when he helped the Australian win the Tour de Suisse last month by reeling in rivals when they attacked.

“He already performed well in that role, especially in the Tour de Suisse, when (Mikel) Landa and (Nairo) Quintana launched attacks,” BMC sports director Fabio Baldato told The Associated Press. “It’s a new role but he’s well established within the team.”

When acting as BMC’s leader, Van Garderen finished the Tour in fifth place in 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, he was riding in third place and aiming for a spot on the podium in Paris when he fell ill and was forced to withdraw.

Those ascending results generated expectations that Van Garderen could one day become the first American to cleanly win the Tour since Greg LeMond in 1989 and 1990. Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis were later stripped of their Tour titles for having doped.

But when Porte joined BMC in 2016, the American team said Porte and Van Garderen were the co-leaders at the Tour. Porte finished a career-best fifth in the race, while Van Garderen was 29th. Van Garderen skipped last year’s Tour to ride in the Giro d’Italia.

Baldato said it was the 29-year-old Van Garderen who wanted to play wingman this time around.

“He asked to come to the Tour as a support rider. We call him a teammate `di lusso’ (an extra special teammate),” Baldato told The AP. “The pressure that came with being the leader wasn’t easy to handle. Now that he’s free of that pressure he’s got less weight on his shoulders.

“It will free his mind up and make him ride better.”

Porte knows what it means to be a shield-bearer. He was Froome’s ally when he won his first two Tour titles in 2013 and 2015 for Team Sky.

At 33, Porte also knows this may be his last chance to win an elusive Grand Tour. Last year he was in contention for the Tour until he crashed out.

When asked if he would be prepared to take over if Porte again falters, Van Garderen replied with a curt, “I will do what I am told.

“(Porte) is in great shape and he has a good shot to get on the podium in Paris and I am looking forward to helping him to be able to do that.”

 

Ban for 2011 Vuelta winner Cobo could give title to Froome

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AIGLE, Switzerland — Juan Jose Cobo has been banned from cycling for three years after being found guilty of doping in 2011, the year he won the Spanish Vuelta.

Cobo’s ban puts 2011 Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome in line for a seventh Grand Tour title.

The International Cycling Union says Cobo has been found “guilty of an anti-doping rule violation.” The UCI says the case was “based on abnormalities from 2009 and 2011 detected in his biological passport.”

The now-retired 38-year-old Spanish rider won the three-week Vuelta for his first Grand Tour title in September 2011, finishing 13 seconds ahead of Froome. Bradley Wiggins was third.

The UCI says Cobo has a one-month deadline to file an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Carapaz on verge of Giro victory; Bilbao wins Stage 20

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CROCE D’AUNE-MONTE AVENA, Italy (AP) Ecuadorian cyclist Richard Carapaz took a huge step towards winning the Giro d’Italia as he preserved his overall lead at the end of the penultimate stage, which was won by Pello Bilbao of Spain on Saturday.

Carapaz, who rides for Movistar, remained 1 minute, 54 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali ahead of the final time trial in Verona on Sunday.

“We’ve tried to win the stage with Mikel Landa as well as myself to retain the Maglia Rosa but we’ve missed out by very little,” Carapaz said. “However, we’re happy with how it went. I believe 1:54 over Nibali is enough although anything can happen in a final time trial.”

Landa leapfrogged Primoz Roglic into third, 2:53 behind Carapaz, after finishing second in a sprint with Bilbao after 194 kilometers (121 miles) from Feltre to Croce d’Aune-Monte Avena, which had five long, categorized climbs in the Dolomites.

It was Bilbao’s second Grand Tour victory after the Astana rider triumphed on Stage 7.

“I knew that Carapaz would try to give the win to Mikel Landa so I followed the best wheel,” Bilbao said. “My first win was special. This second win is even better because it’s a big mountain stage. When the GC riders caught us I thought it would be hard but they were tired, too.”

Giulio Ciccone was third, two seconds behind the front two.

Miguel Angel Lopez had hopes of competing for a stage win but he was tripped by a fan, who was running alongside encouraging him but collided with another spectator and fell onto the cyclist. As Lopez got back up, he slapped the fan. Lopez was still visibly furious when he crossed the line 18th, 1:49 off the pace.

“I’m sorry for what happened, I was full of pure adrenaline. But there needs to be more respect for the cyclists,” Lopez said.

Another incident with a fan also cost Roglic. The Slovenian was pushed by a spectator and didn’t attempt to push him away and so was penalized 10 seconds by the race jury. Roglic, who finished 50 seconds behind Carapaz, now trails by 3:16 overall. However, he is a time trial specialist and will hope to at least finish the three-week race on the podium.

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