Tour director says race won’t be same without Froome

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PARIS — The Tour de France just won’t be the same without four-time champion Chris Froome in the field, race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Froome was injured last week in a crash in France that left him with multiple fractures. He let go of his handlebars to blow his nose and hit a wall at speed.

“Clearly, it changes things,” Prudhomme said. “The Tour de France with Chris Froome and without is not the same thing. He has been the central character since, we’ll say, 2013.

“So other scenarios are going to open up.”

Defending champion Geraint Thomas was also hurt in a crash this week at the Tour de Suisse. The 33-year-old Welshman required stitches above his eye but he is still expecting to defend his title.

“Luckily I’m all ok,” Thomas wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “It just means I’ll need some big training rides next week now.”

The setback cast further uncertainty over Team INEOS, formerly known as Team Sky, which has won six of the last seven Tours. Bradley Wiggins won in 2012, while Froome took the title 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Thomas last year.

But with Froome out and Thomas recovering, that could open the door for 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal.

“Of course, Dave Brailsford’s team will weigh on the Tour de France, as in previous years. But will it do so to such an extent and in the same way?” Prudhomme asked. “I imagine that he, Dave Brailsford, is asking himself lots of questions, too.

“Who will be the leader? The evidence, logic, dictates it will be Geraint Thomas, of course,” Prudhomme said. “But will that still be the case after his crash? There are lots of question marks. But we know that Egan Bernal is ready, it seems to me.”

After an impressive win at the Paris-Nice race in March, the Colombian then also crashed in training in May. He broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Giro d’Italia. But he is racing at the Tour de Suisse and Prudhomme expects that the mountainous terrain of the Tour will play to Bernal’s climbing strengths. This year’s Tour will be the first with three stages that finish on summits above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), where the thin air will sap riders.

“We’re going very high this year,” Prudhomme said. “But nearly all of us believe that the Colombians won’t be less strong at 2,000 meters and Bernal, obviously, is Colombian.

“At first glance, on paper, it cannot be unfavorable for Bernal,” he added. “He is super-talented in the mountains. He can attack from far out.”

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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.”