Alpe d’Huez and cobblestones return for 2022 Tour de France

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PARIS — Next year’s Tour de France will see the return of the Paris-Roubaix cobblestones and take the peloton to the summit of the famed Alpe d’Huez mountain.

Designed for complete riders such as two-time champion Tadej Pogacar, the route features two individual time trials and six mountain stages with five summit finishes.

Race organizers unveiled the route in Paris on in the presence of Pogacar and two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe, marking the return of the traditional ceremony that was scrapped last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The women’s race will take place from July 24-31 and feature eight stages. It will start from the Eiffel Tower in Paris and head towards eastern France, with a prestigious finish at the Planche des Belles Filles, a classic stage of the men’s Tour in the Vosges mountains.

Back on the calendar next year, the Tour de France Femmes aims to become a permanent fixture on the women’s world tour after various failed attempts. A women’s Tour stage race took place from 1984-89, parallel with the men’s race before later being shortened.

The three-week men’s race will start from Copenhagen after a one-year delay because of the rescheduling of European Championship soccer matches in the Danish capital to last year.

The opening stage, a 13-kilometer time trial, will take place on July 1 and will be followed by two more stages on roads exposed to winds in the Nordic country before a transfer to the north of France.

A mouth-watering Stage 5 will tackle the treacherous Paris-Roubaix cobblestones, which are back on the program after a four-year absence. The race will then head to the Vosges for a mountaintop finish at the Planche des Belles Filles, where the first battle between overall contenders is expected to unfold.

The Planche has become a classic of the Tour de France in recent years with its brutal finish. This is where Pogacar sealed the first of his wins in 2020 when he snatched the yellow jersey in a high-drama time trial on the eve of the race finish.

“There are a couple of opportunities for punchy riders,” Alaphilippe said. “What I can already tell you is that the echelons and cobblestones will make for a nice and spectacular first week.”

The peloton will visit the Swiss city of Lausanne before tackling the Alps. There, two summit finishes – the col du Granon at 2,413 metres above sea level, then l’Alpe d’Huez and its 21 hairpin bends – will prove a tough challenge for the peloton. The last time Tour riders climbed l’Alpe d’Huez was in 2018.

“We felt such a demand to come back there,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told L’Equipe newspaper. “From the resort itself, which systematically wrote us these past few years to bid. And from the public, which is very attached to these emblematic climbs.”

The crossing of the Pyrenees will offer no breathing space with daunting stages to Peyragudes and Hautacam. The final rankings will be decided on the eve of the final stage to the Champs Elysees, during a 40-kilometer time trial to the picturesque clifftop village of Rocamadour.

There will be a few opportunities for sprinters to shine, with six flat stages scattered across the 3,328-kilometer route, including one to the medieval city of Carcassone, where Mark Cavendish equaled Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 Tour stage wins this year.

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.”