Geraint Thomas

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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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Thomas ‘all OK’ after crash, set for Tour de France

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BASEL, Switzerland — Geraint Thomas says he is “all OK” after crashing in the Tour de Suisse cycling race and is optimistic about defending his Tour de France title next month.

The British rider says in a Twitter post he hit his head and needed stitches above his eye after hitting the road with about 30 kilometers (18 miles) left in the fourth stage of the nine-day race in Switzerland.

Thomas, who was forced to withdraw from the race, says it “just means I’ll need some big training rides next week” as he prepares for the Tour de France, which starts July 6.

Thomas rides for Team INEOS, who lost four-time Tour champion Chris Froome to a season-ending accident last week in the Criterium du Dauphine.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

Tejay van Garderen keeps overall lead in Tour of Catalonia

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IGUALADA, Spain — Tejay van Garderen of the U.S. successfully defended his lead in a Tour of Catalonia fourth stage that was cut short by 60 kilometers (37 miles) because of a snowstorm in northeastern Spain.

Nacer Bouhanni of France won the 136-kilometer (84-mile) stage after outsprinting Davide Cimolai of Italy in the final meters. Cimolai beat Bouhanni to win the opening stage on Monday.

Van Garderen finished 33rd with his BMC Racing Team to maintain a 41-second lead over teammate Samuel Sanchez of Spain. Geraint Thomas of Team Sky was another three seconds behind, and Alejandro Valverde was another second back.

Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Team Sky remained four seconds behind Valverde in the overall standings.

Valverde and the rest of the Movistar riders were penalized on Wednesday after some of them pushed each other in the second stage.

The fourth stage was originally to run from Llivia to Igualada, but the snow prompted the race to start 58 kilometers (36 miles) into the route, in the city of Montferrer.