Road – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Sun, 23 Jul 2017 22:22:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Road – 32 32 Chris Froome wins fourth Tour de France Sun, 23 Jul 2017 17:17:46 +0000 The 32-year-old Briton from Team Sky crossed the finish line on the Champs-Élysées as a four-time Tour de France winner.

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PARIS (VN) — Chris Froome has won the Tour de France for the fourth time.

The 32-year-old Briton from Team Sky crossed the finish line on the Champs-Élysées near the back of the peloton, one hand in the air and with his entire team around him.

It was the closest Tour in years, decided not with daring uphill attacks but by the methodical accumulation of seconds. Fifty-four seconds, to be precise, was narrow gap over second place Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac). Romain Bardet (AG2R) clutched third by just one second, 2’20 down on Froome.

The victory brings Froome’s Tour win count to four. Only Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain have won more Tours de France. Each has five.

“I never dreamed of being up there of even come close to Eddy Merckx, Anquetil, or Indurain. It’s amazing to be in this position, it’s such a privilege,” Froome said.

The Tour was once again won on the back of Froome’s impressive time trials. While many of his rivals, including Urán, Bardet, and Astana’s Fabio Aru, were able to match Froome in the high mountains they were unable to do so against the clock.

“The key for me in the Tour with respect to Froome was the 51 seconds I lost in the opening stage time-trial in Dusseldorf,” Urán said. “In the mountains there wasn’t much difference and I improved a lot.”

Froome gained 1’16” over second-place Uran across the Tour’s two time trials, a wider gap than his 54” win margin.

“Given the course we had this year it was always the tactic to ride a three week race and not go out one day with the aim to blow the race apart or smash it with a stage win,” Froome said. “It was just about chipping away on eveyr stage and making sure there weren’t any major losses on anyway.”

The Sky leader’s race was not without its setbacks. After failing to eat enough on the stage to Peyragudes, Froome lost seconds and the yellow jersey to the Italian Aru, dropping badly in the final 300 meters of the steep climb.

“I’m grateful it wasn’t any worse than that,” Froome said of the stage. “If you have a bad day in the mountains you can lose minutes.”

Aru would return the jersey two days later in a seemingly innocuous but decisive stage that seemed to characterize the unusual nature of this Tour de France.

“It’s certainly not getting any easier,” Froome said. “This one was the closest of my Tour de France career.”

As Froome dropped atop the Peyragudes, his teammate Mikel Landa rode on, fueling speculation that the domestique may want to challenge for victory. That issue was settled in stage 9, as Chris Froome suffered the second ill-timed mechanical of the race and was forced to chase while Bardet’s AG2R pushed on. Landa dropped off the lead group to pull his leader back to the front.

Wary of Froome’s time trial prowess, his rivals looked to the final stages in the Alps to make the time they needed ahead of Saturday’s Marseilles time trial. Bardet was particularly active, setting his entire team against the face of the Col d’Izoard and adding attacks of his own near its peak.

Nothing could break Fortress Froome, though, or his exceptional team. He came into the final time trial with a healthy gap, and only extended that lead. A fourth yellow jersey, earned against the clock and in the Tour’s unpredictable margins, was his.

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Cookson addresses equal prize money for women’s cycling Sun, 23 Jul 2017 16:40:24 +0000 VeloNews caught up withUCI President Brian Cookson in Paris for a wide-ranging interview about the state of professional cycling.

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PARIS (VN) — UCI President Brian Cookson was in Paris on Sunday for the final stage of the 2017 Tour de France. VeloNews caught up with Cookson for a wide-ranging interview about the state of professional cycling.

We asked Cookson for his perspective on the current inequality in prize money between men and women at many UCI-sanctioned races. This past week organizers of Oregon’s Cascade Cycling Classic received widespread criticism for offering the UCI minimum prize purse for both men ($23,979) and women ($8,025). Cascade stepped up to the UCI 2.2 level for 2017 and was required to offer at least the minimum.

An 11th hour campaign by sponsors and a Gofundme page helped bring the women’s prize money equal for the men’s.

Cookson was not familiar with the specifics involving the Cascade Cycling Classic, but said he hopes the UCI can move its prize money minimums toward a more equitable level in the future.

“The role of the UCI is to make the women up to the level of the men, not to reduce the men’s. Organizers have to make those decisions themselves within the budgets and sponsorships that they have available. We set a minimum [prize money] limit, and at the moment the minimum limit is lower for women than it is for men. We are going to move towards increasing those minimums across the board. I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that some organizers can’t just flip a magic switch and do that.”

The role the UCI can play within this space is to lead by example, he said.

“I don’t think we get enough credit, those events that we control the budgets—like the UCI World Championships—we have absolutely equalized prize money between men and women. We can impose rules but rules don’t necessarily generate funding and sponsorship. You have to find ways to support organizers so it will generate sponsorships. I think that’s what we’re doing with our Women’s WorldTour is to start that journey by raising the profile of women’s racing and making sure the events are high-caliber.

In addition to raising the minimum prize purses for women’s races, Cookson said he also wants to create a hierarchy amongst professional women’s teams in which the top squads can pay a minimum salary. Currently, UCI-registered pro women’s teams are not required to pay salaries.

Cookson has discussed similar plans throughout his four-year term as UCI President. He said that the solution to creating a minimum salary requirement for pro women’s teams has presented serious challenges.

“Four years ago this was something I was saying, that we’ll have a minimum wage for women. It’s not that easy to just pass a rule. You can’t just pass a rule. What the women’s team directors and riders told me is if you pass that rule you will kill half the teams because they cannot afford it. They will re-register as club teams.”

“Four years ago this was something I was saying, that we’ll have a minimum wage for women. It’s not that easy to just pass a rule. You can’t just pass a rule.”
– Brian Cookson

Whether Cookson will work on these reforms depends on the upcoming UCI election in September. Cookson is seeking his second term, and is running Frenchman David Lappartient and Belgian Tom Van Damme.

“We want to achieve a stronger financial base for the women’s scene that enables miimum wages and gives good prize money and equalizes the situation. It’s not a matter of flicking a switch or passing a rule. It’s a developmental process.”

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De Gendt upset over jury decision to award Barguil Tour’s super-combativity prize Sun, 23 Jul 2017 16:01:54 +0000 Belgian Thomas De Gendt blasted an all French jury for naming Warren Barguil as the race’s most aggressive rider.

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MARSEILLE, France (VN) — Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who spent 1,280 kilometers in escapes in the Tour de France, blasted an all French jury for naming Warren Barguil (Sunweb) as the race’s most aggressive rider.

De Gendt failed at winning a stage with his attempts, but at least wanted to take the overall Prix de la Combativite home. Instead, Frenchman Barguil — winner of two mountains stages and the climber’s jersey, received the nod.

“Let at least one international jury member should have a say in it,” De Gendt said. “If there were five Belgians in the jury, the outcome would have looked different. This proves that the jury composition is not correct.”

“If there were five Belgians in the jury, the outcome would have looked different. This proves that the jury composition is not correct”
– Thomas De Gendt

De Gendt won the Mont Ventoux stage in 2016. This year, his long effort to Rodez nearly paid off. It at least earned him the combativity prize for the day.

The panel votes on the most aggressive rider of the day and after three weeks, awards the super-combativity for the Tour. It does have an international flavor with Greg LeMond voting and public input coming via Twitter.

The three-time American worked for Eurosport during the Tour. The rest of the panel includes Frenchmen Jean Montois (AFP), Alexandre Roos (L’Equipe), Laurent Jalabert (France Télévision) and Thierry Gouvenou (Tour de France).

“I’m too disappointed to go deeper into it. I’d like to go home right away, but I will do my utmost to make it a sprint on the Champs-Élysées today,” De Gendt added.

“Let me be clear: Barguil rode a fantastic Tour and he deserves everything. But a mountains jersey is for the best climber, a stage win is for the strongest guy of the day, and the points jersey is there for the most consistent sprinter.

“I think the combativity jersey is there for the rider who showed throughout the whole Tour his intention to animate the race and to attack. For me that hasn’t lead to the desired effect: a stage win, but that is not necessary to win the super-combativity award.”

De Gendt shared in Twitter the public’s vote, showing an overwhelming win for him. The jury panel would have taken that into consideration in its decision.

He wrote, “The public vote is worth more to me than the vote of six jury members.”

In the past, riders gained points that put them in contention for the prize. Since 2003, a jury votes for it daily. Last year, Peter Sagan took home the overall super-combativity award.

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Urán saves Tour runner-up spot in near-miss Sat, 22 Jul 2017 19:31:15 +0000 Rigoberto Urán saved his runner-up spot in the Tour de France after near-miss in the closing curves of the stage 20 Marseille time trial.

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MARSEILLE, France (VN) — Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Urán saved his runner-up spot in the Tour de France after a near-miss in the closing curves of the stage 20 Marseille time trial.

The Colombian, racing to overtake Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) for second place blasted towards the famous Stade Velodrome stadium and over-powered through a right-hand bend. He slammed against the barriers, but kept upright.

The technical 22.5-kilometer course through Marseille’s city streets and up to the Notre-Dame basilica saw Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) and Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) hit the deck. Urán’s skills saved his Tour started the parties in Medellín and the rest of Colombia.

“It has been a very good Tour for me, I have won a stage, but finishing second is the most important moment of my career,” Urán said.

“Colombia was accustomed to Nairo Quintana making the podium, and with me, its back on the podium. For the country is very important and shows the talent pool we have in Colombia. There are many more cyclists coming through.”

Urán sits second at 54 seconds behind Chris Froome (Sky). Bardet is third at 2:20 and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) placed 12th at 15:28.

Quintana twice finished second to Chris Froome and last year placed third. In this year’s Giro d’Italia, he placed second to Tom Dumoulin. However, in the Tour de France this July, he was not at his best.

It left the door open for a surprise Urán performance. Not many had mentioned him as a Tour de France favourite when the race left Düsseldorf on a rain-soaked day three weeks ago. Few had even mentioned his name and grand tours in the same sentence since he rode back to back second places in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Giro d’Italia.

After that second place with team Sky in 2013, he signed for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, but he went silent following his Barolo time trail win and second place in 2014.

“I’ve always been the same, although sometimes I’ve had some health problems, but when ride to a podium spot and then you finish fifth or sixth, it feels like you’ve lost everything. But this time, I stayed healthy over the three weeks and I was able to ride with the best.”

“When ride to a podium spot and then you finish fifth or sixth, it feels like you’ve lost everything.”
– Rigoberto Urán

Urán blasted back into shotgun for the Paris stage tomorrow, where the overall classification typically stays as is while the sprinters go for the Champs-Élysées win. Even with his hiccup in Marseille, he was able to clock a time 31 seconds behind winner Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) and 25 seconds off of Froome.

While Urán pushed for second, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and France’s hopes faded. Bardet suffered and almost slipped off the podium. He saved it by one second over Mikel Landa (Sky) in third.

“Am I surprised by Urán? No. He already finished on the Giro podium twice and he has great qualities for there week races,” Bardet said. “He had his own tactic and it paid off, he managed the best possible for the strategy he had.”

Bardet previously had been critical of Urán for not attacking and always following, only shooting ahead for bonus seconds at the end of the stages. What ever strategy he had, it worked for second place.

Jonathan Vaughters is seeking a new sponsor for his the team, but is unsure if he can keep Urán in the team for 2018. Astana and other teams are lining up to sign him.

“I have no idea if I will be able to beat Froome in the future,” Urán said. “This year, Sky had a very strong team and they made the difference in many stages. They controlled the Tour from start to finish.”

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Mixed opinions on new La Course Sat, 22 Jul 2017 18:55:09 +0000 Riders react to the new-look La Course by Le Tour de France, which wrapped up Saturday with an unorthodox individual pursuit in Marseilles.

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MARSEILLE, France (VN) — La Course by Le Tour de France wrapped up Saturday with an unorthodox individual pursuit around the Stade Vélodrome stadium in downtown Marseille.

For the race’s fourth edition, organizer ASO removed the event from the Champs-Élysées in downtown Paris and developed an entirely new format for the race. On Thursday, riders raced 67km from Briançon to the top of the Col d’Izoard. The top 20 riders qualified for a pursuit-style individual time trial in Marseille, to be held just before the men’s individual time trial.

Overall winner Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) praised organizers for shifting the event away from the Champs-Élysées and developing the new competition format. The new event gave other riders a chance to grab attention — not just the sprinters.

I think we can show we can do more than just laps on the Champs-Élysées,” Van Vleuten said. “I think my Strava file from the Izoard, I think people really like to see that; girls are also pretty fast on the bike. It was a great moment to ride up the Izoard with lots of people to watch.”

The event was not without its critics. On Friday the event received public criticism from retired German rider Judith Arndt, who called the event “pathetic and almost humiliating” because of its short length and strange format. Arndt won three world championships during her career, and won the Tour de l’Aude — which was viewed as the women’s Tour de France — on two occasions.

“If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it,” Arndt wrote on her Facebook page. “Women’s cycling is such a serious sport and should be treated as such.”

“If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it.”
– Judith Arndt

Among women at the race, opinions were also mixed. Reactions were extremely positive after Thursday’s stage up the Col d’Izoard, with criticism coming after Saturday’s event in Marseille. After finishing outside the time limit on Thursday, Marianne Vos (WM3 Racing) called the event “a good show.”

“It is interesting to see this hillclimb as the best climbers have the opportunity to show themselves in La Course now,” Vos said. “We sprinters had our chance of the [Champs-Élysées] and now its time for the climbers.”

Australian racer Shara Gillow (FDJ) also praised the event due to the crowd size. On both Thursday and Saturday the women raced along sections of the men’s route, with the spectator counts numbering well into the thousands. Gillow said the crowds were even bigger than the 2012 Olympics in London.

“I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps — I’m thankful that we can have a day like we did Thursday,” she said. “I didn’t kick up a fuss about it because I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”

“I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps. I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”
– Shara Gillow

British rider Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) was less-enthusiastic about the two days of racing. After the Marseille event she called the unorthodox pursuit race “an experiment” and had somewhat mixed feelings on the La Course format.

“We took it as seriously as probably we felt the organizers took us today,” Deignan said. 

The race posed an event to teams from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Deignan said. Since a rider’s spot in Marseille was not guaranteed — the results from the Izoard qualified them for Marseille — it was challenging for teams to prepare for the race, she said.

“Our strategy was to win on the Izoard and treat that as a one day event and treat this as a bit of fun and see what happened,” Deignan said. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff that you don’t have an appreciation for. Its the hotels and flights and bikes, spare wheels — what wheels do you even need? All the things we can’t prepare for properly.”

The organization of the Marseille event — or lack thereof — presented other challenges, Deignan said. 

“This morning I was in a car park looking for a female toilet and there wasn’t any at the start,” she said. “To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is—if there is one at all—it’s difficult to take that seriously.”

“To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is — if there is one at all — it’s difficult to take that seriously.”
– Lizzie Deignan

Deignan said she has an open mind for the event’s future. The various sponsors of the women’s peloton, she said, received good attention at the event. But Deignan would like the organization hurdles to improve.

We’re at a stage where we deserve more probably,” she said. 

A universal sentiment from the women’s peloton was that organizer ASO should try to grow the event to multiple days. If the old format featured one day on the Champs-Élysées, and the 2017 format had two race days, then why not extend it to three, four, or five days in the future?

“That would be great if we had a bit longer stage race,” said Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling). “I see improvement every year. Last year we only got on [Champs Élysées]. Now we have two stages. I’m hoping in the future we can have four stages and maybe five. Maybe it’s like the [Giro Rosa] and we have 10 stages.”

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Froome honoured to be mentioned alongside Tour greats Sat, 22 Jul 2017 18:02:49 +0000 Chris Froome said on Saturday it was an "honour" to be mentioned in the same breath as Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain.

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MARSEILLE, France (AFP) — Chris Froome said on Saturday it was an “honour” to be mentioned in the same breath as five-time Tour de France winners Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain.

The 32-year-old Briton all but wrapped up a fourth title in Saturday’s 22.5km time-trial in Marseille, putting himself alone in fifth on the list of most successful Tour riders of all time.

When he rides into Paris on Sunday he will know that only Belgian great Merckx, Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish freight train Indurain have won the Tour more times than him.

“Obviously it’s a huge honour just to be mentioned in the same sentence as greats of the Tour de France history like that, but certainly I’m just taking it one race at a time,” said the Sky team leader.

“I have to get to Paris tomorrow safely with the rest of the guys. I’m just taking it one season at a time.

“But certainly, I’ve got a new-found appreciation for just how difficult it is for those guys to win five Tours de France.

“It’s certainly not getting easier. This one was the closest of my Tour de France career.”

It wasn’t just the closest — his 54-second winning margin to Rigoberto Uran tighter than the 1 -minute 12-sec0nd gap to Nairo Quintana in 2014 and a world away from the more than four-minute advantages of 2013 and last year — it was also his least glorious in one way.

Froome won three Tour stages in 2013, two last year and one in 2015. He also won a stage in 2012 when finishing second to his Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins.

But this year he has not finished higher than third in a stage and in fact hasn’t won any race of any kind in 2017, until his expected coronation tomorrow.

– Pyrenean suffering –

But Froome insisted it takes nothing away from his overall triumph.

“Given the course that we had this year it was always the tactic to ride a three week race and not go out one day with the aim to blow the race apart or smash it with a stage win,” he said.

“It was just about chipping away on every stage and making sure there weren’t any massive loses on any day.

“Yes, I suffered in the Pyrenees and lost 20 seconds that day up to Peyragudes (stage 12) but I’m very grateful it wasn’t any worse than that.

“If you have a bad day in the mountains you can lose minutes.”

Froome was actually jeered by sections of the crowd in Marseille’s Velodrome football stadium when he started his time-trial but he said there were no hard feelings given the battle that was about to play out with home hero Romain Bardet, who faded from second to third behind Uran.

“I think it’s perfectly normal with a Frenchman in second place, 23 seconds behind me on the start line this morning, being in the centre of Marseille and finishing in a football stadium,” said Froome, who was nonetheless cheered at the finish.

“It’s not something I’m going to take personally. I’ll forgive them for that today.

“But the support out on the roads has been incredible. It’s been bigger and better and I just want to thank them.

“Those people make this race so special, it’s their race. People grow up as a family tradition watching the Tour de France and it’s amazing to be a part of that.”

And Froome gave short shrift to rivals who might hope he will slow down one day.

“I’m definitely getting older but at the same time, each year I’d like to think I’m still learning more, still developing as a rider.

“I’m becoming a more complete rider. Something I’ve definitely worked on these last few years is descending, my positioning in the bunch.

“But tactically I’ve still got more to learn.”

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‘Tired’ Bardet relieved to hold onto podium place Sat, 22 Jul 2017 17:03:53 +0000 Romain Bardet revealed he'd been suffering from "fragile" health as he fought to hold onto a podium finish on stage 20 Saturday.

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MARSEILLE, France (AFP) — Romain Bardet revealed he’d been suffering from “fragile” health as he fought bravely to hold onto a podium finish on stage 20 won by Maciej Bodnar at the Tour de France on Saturday.

Bardet, 26, was struggling from the word go in the 22.5km time-trial around Marseille and having started the day just 23 seconds behind leader Chris Froome in second place, he ended it hanging onto third by just one second from Mikel Landa, and 2 minutes 20 seconds behind Froome.

“I’m at my limit, I’m tired, I gave everything. It’s the Tour de France, there are 21 stages, some days when you feel good and other days you don’t,” said the Frenchman, who was 52nd on the stage, some 2:02 behind winner Maciej Bodnar of Poland.

“Today I really didn’t feel good. For the last few days I haven’t been in good health and today I paid for it in cash.

“I fought to the end but it’s true that it was tough, I quickly saw that I wasn’t at the races, I did the time-trial with my head today.

“I’m starting to get to know my body really well and I know when I’m good and when I’m not.

“I’m getting tired. The day after the Izoard (stage 18) I could feel that my immune system was fragile. This morning I didn’t feel good when I woke up.”

Rather than fulfilling the dreams of a nation and battling to overhaul Froome, Bardet not only dropped below Rigoberto Uran but was simply hanging on grimly for third, which he said was success in itself, despite having finished runner-up to Froome last year.

“I knew I couldn’t let my head go down in the money-time. I’m delighted to have given it everything and there’s a little bit of success in having saved a podium place,” he said.

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Van Vleuten escapes chasers in La Course pursuit Sat, 22 Jul 2017 13:29:38 +0000 Annemiek van Vleuten won the first edition of La Course’s pursuit-style time trial on Saturday.

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MARSEILLE, France (VN) — Annemiek van Vleuten raised her arms to a roar inside the Marseille Velodrome as she held off her chasers to win the first edition of La Course’s pursuit-style time trial on Saturday.

Boels-Dolman’s Lizzie Deignan outsprinted Wiggle High5’s Elisa Longo-Borghini for second, crossing the line 1’52” back. Boels’ Megan Guarnier was fourth.

The unique event had each rider set off with the gaps earned in Thursday’s La Course race to the top of the Col d’Izoard. That meant Orica-Scott’s van Vleuten rolled down the start ramp 43 seconds ahead Deignan, 1’23” on Longo-Borghini, and 1’28” on Guarnier.

The format, which left racers on their road bikes and allowed drafting, forced tactical decisions among the top riders. Deignan made the call to wait up for Guarnier and Longo Borghini, believing that she would be unable to bridge the 43-second gap to van Vleuten alone. That put a select group 90 seconds behind van Vlueten in the first half of the race.

“Half of the fun for this race today was thinking about what other riders would do,” van Vleuten said. “If they want to win they have to come together and chase me together. I thought for sure they would wait, especially Lizzie would wait for her teammate and ride together.”

“Today was a different formula, and I think it’s good, like the Hammer series, to try something new,” van Vleuten said.

Even with three riders working together, the gap to van Vleuten refused to budge. As the chasers hit the day’s steep climb Guarnier fell off and left just Deignan and Long-Borghini. In the final kilometers, the two began to play a bit of cat-and-mouse, allowing van Vleuten to further stretch her lead.

Top-10 overall

1. Annemiek Van Vleuten (NED/Orica), in 32:52
2. Lizzie Deignan (GBR/Boels), at 1:52
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA/Wiggle), at 1:52
4. Megan Guarnier (USA/Bols), at 3:00
5. Amanda Spratt (AUS/Orica), at 3:26
6. Shara Gillow (AUS/FDJ), at 3:48
7. Lauren Stephens (USA/Tibco), at 3:53
8. Katarzyna Niewadoma (POL/WM3), at 4:35
9. Ashliegh Moolman Pasio (RSA/Cervelo), at 4:35
10. Ana Sabria (COL/Servetto), at 4:46

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Video: Women’s La Course takes on the Izoard Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:38:49 +0000 Watch video highlights from the Women's WorldTour's La Course race up the famous Col d'Izoard.

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What happened to Andrew Talansky? Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:23:40 +0000 After a light racing schedule in the first half of 2017, plus some misfortune, Andrew Talansky comes up short at the Tour de France.

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SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (VN) — What happened to Andrew Talansky?

The only American to enter this Tour de France with GC ambitions — in fact, the only American to enter this Tour ever having ridden it before — did not, in the end, contend. He will set off on Saturday more than an hour before Sky’s Chris Froome and will finish in Paris more than two hours down on the general classification.

“I did enter pretty hopeful,” Cannondale-Drapac’s Talansky said. But his early results weren’t a sterling case for optimism. He lost time on the tricky finish of stage 3. Then he dropped a few more minutes on Planche des Belles Filles, the first real climbing test. “I knew early on I wasn’t feeling super,” he said. “Even on those early climbs, you know if you’re there or not. It was pretty clear I was not.”

He hoped his legs would turn around, he said at the end of the first week. And slowly, they did. By Thursday he was jumping in breaks again. After a week and a half of near-complete anonymity, he was able to take an important turn for Rigoberto Uràn.

This may be the best Tour de France ever for Talansky’s Cannondale-Drapac team. That makes Talansky’s inconspicuousness feel even more unusual. Uràn is in third, likely to jump to second in the final time trial. He also won stage 9. Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown, the other two Americans in the race, both wore the polka-dot jersey in their first Tour.

In previous years, we would have written half a dozen stories about Talansky’s Tour already. For 2017, this is the second.

So what went wrong? A series of mildly unfortunate events, basically. A broken thumb over the winter slowed his base season, though the spring build went largely to plan. He was strong at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished third, and rode an acceptable Critérum du Dauphiné. But then he got sick, he says. Training between the Dauphiné and the Tour ground to a halt.

“Up until 10 days before the race started, I was unsure if I was going to be able to line up healthy,” he said. “It was touch and go. You don’t want to line up if you’re not healthy.”

He was healthy by Dusseldorf, but lacked the edge needed to truly contend. The Tour de France is merciless. It does not take kindly to riders who arrive even slightly off their game.

“I’m always an optimistic person, but I’ve also been doing this long enough that I know what the reality of it was as well,” Talansky said. “You need months, not weeks, of things going smoothly. You have enough little things not quite line up and they combine with not having a solid winter, breaking my thumb, you add those things up, and it’s going to be a big ask.

“Perfection doesn’t exist, particularly in this sport,” he said. “It’s more just being realistic. You don’t need 100 percent, you need 80, 85. One hundred percent never happens. Ninety rarely happens. But when you’re down at 50 …”

Cannondale did appear to make every effort to tune its only American GC contender for the Tour this year. Team general manager Jonathan Vaughters allowed Talansky to race infrequently this spring because he’d been given the green light to focus on the Tour. Before the Tour of California in May, he’d raced for just eight days. He didn’t finish either of the early season stage races he entered. It was purposeful, according to the team. Talansky had performed well at the Vuelta a España last fall on relatively minimal racing. He was fifth in Spain. Maybe he could replicate that in the Tour.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it seems both Talansky and Vaughters may be second-guessing the light spring schedule. Talansky said on stage 4 that he had come into the Tour a little “under-raced.” Vaughters now sings a different tune too. “I think [Talansky] felt like he could get to form on time for the Tour, but our take was always that Rigo [Uràn] was our GC rider and Andrew was there to chip in.”

Now it seems that Talansky may be looking toward the Vuelta, though he wouldn’t lay out a specific race calendar. “The Tour shouldn’t serve as laying a foundation for things, but this is definitely serving as a solid foundation,” he said. “I think I’ll be quite a bit stronger than I’ve been so far.”

So where was Talansky this month? He was reminding us how even the best-laid plans can be left crumbling by even minor pitfalls, and how very heartless the Tour de France can be.

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Stage win salvages Tour for Dimension Data Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:57:28 +0000 After the frustrating loss of sprinter Mark Cavendish to an early crash, Boasson Hagen gets redemption for Dimension Data team at Tour.

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SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (VN) — In the hours after Mark Cavendish abandoned this year’s Tour de France with a fractured scapula — an injury he suffered in a controversial crash on stage 4 — Dimension Data’s directors sat down with the eight remaining riders to discuss the rest of the race.

Losing Cavendish was a disaster for the squad, which had built its roster around the Tour’s plethora of pan-flat stages that were perfect for the British rider’s fast finishing kick. So rather than dwell on the obvious, director Roger Hammond tried to shape the news with a positive spin.

“It was like what opportunity does this present to you guys — more freedom,” Hammond said at the finish line of stage 19. “You’re less obliged to work and we’re more potent without having to use riders to get us to the finish line.”

The team’s new “freedom” strategy paid off Friday afternoon on the streets of Salon-de-Provence. Norwegian rider Edvald Boasson Hagen sprung free from a daylong breakaway with 2km remaining and then soloed in for his third career Tour victory. Boasson Hagen finished five seconds ahead of Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), nearly 11 minutes before the peloton containing Chris Froome rumbled into town.

After the stage win, Boasson Hagen credited the team’s positive attitude for keeping his motivation high.

“It was big when we lost [Cavendish] early in the race, but everyone in the team was motivated from the beginning,” Boasson Hagen said. “We can’t just sit down and do nothing for three weeks.”

Indeed, in the days after Cavendish’s abandon, Dimension Data riders targeted the breakaways, sending multiple riders up the road each day. British champion Stephen Cummings nearly survived to the finish line in Peyregudes on stage 12. That day stretched over six categorized climbs in the Pyrénées. Serge Pauwels also attacked often. He rode into the big break on stage 15.

The team also targeted the tricky, uphill sprint stages with Boasson Hagen. He has raced as a lead-out man, a sprinter, and a classics rider throughout his career. He nearly won the stage 7 sprint into Nuits-Saint-Georges — a photo finish declared him second to Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors). Boasson Hagen was third on stage 11 into Pau, again behind Kittel, and then he nearly won stage 16‘s sprint.

“We felt like we were running out of stages,” Hammond said.

When Hammond and fellow director Rolf Aldag examined stage 19’s route, the longest stage of this year’s Tour at 222.5km, they initially saw it as a day for Cummings. But the Brit was nursing a battered body after a crash on stage 17. So instead they tapped Boasson Hagen to ride in the breakaway on the lumpy stage.

The team had a staffer drive the course three weeks before the Tour to create a video of the route. They watched it on the eve of the stage.

“We deliberated about this stage for a long time last night,” Hammond said. “We talked to Eddie and said, ‘You need to make yourself available for the win.'”

Boasson Hagen did not disappoint. He rode carefully in the breakaway over the climbs. Then he followed moves from Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) in the final 20km. As the fastest sprinter in the break, he contemplated waiting for the sprint. But when the group slowed at 2km to go, he attacked.

“To finally make a stage win is great,” he said.

Hammond called the victory “payback” for his riders.

“The guys never really lost motivation,” Hammond said. “The negative of [the crash] was so early for us but also nobody was tired, they were fresh. They were excited about the Tour de France.”

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Froome: It’s my Tour to lose Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:33:18 +0000 With a 22.5-kilometer time trial standing between Chris Froome and a fourth Tour de France victory, the Brit is cautiously optimistic.

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SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (AFP) — Chris Froome said he could only lose the Tour de France now on the eve of the decisive time trial in Marseille.

Following Friday’s stage 19, the longest of the race at 222.5km, yellow jersey leader Froome (Sky) admitted that with only Saturday’s race against the clock and Sunday’s procession to Paris left, he should wrap up a fourth overall victory.

“Tomorrow I have to not lose the race. I can’t win it, but I mustn’t lose it,” said Froome, who leads by 23 seconds from France’s Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and 29 seconds to Rigoberto Uràn (Cannondale-Drapac).

But he is widely regarded as a better time trial rider than both of those two, and it would be a major shock were he not to sew up victory on Saturday.

“I have to treat it like any other time trial that I’ve done before,” said Froome of the 22.5km stage. “I have to do everything right. I’m not going to go out there and take any big risks.”

On the opening stage, a 14km time trial in Dusseldorf, Froome beat Bardet by 39 seconds and Uràn by 51 seconds, although heavy rain at times made the conditions treacherous.

“It’s the same as in Dusseldorf. I wasn’t going to take risks in the corners,” said Froome, 32. “When I can push, I will push. It’s not a course where I’ll be going out to risk everything.

“I’d now much rather be in this position than second, third, or fourth and having to make up time on someone else.”

‘Give it everything’

Bardet is usually the slowest of the three contenders against the clock, and he says there will be no pressure on him.

“There’s nothing to think about. You just have to give it everything and not ask any questions,” said the 27-year-old.

The time trial will start and finish in Marseille’s iconic velodrome football stadium, which began life in 1937 as a multi-sport arena hosting track cycling, athletics and rugby, as well as football, to which it has since become dedicated as the home ground of Olympique Marseille.

“At the velodrome, at the finish, it will be as if we’re seeing the Champs-Élysées,” added Bardet. “I’ve had a great Tour. It’s my desire to finish it as well as possible.

“I’m expecting a royal battle, man to man, and to have no regrets.

“I’m thinking about riding the 22 kilometers as fast as possible and we’ll see at the finish.”

Froome has stated Uràn will be the man to beat in Marseille as the Colombian has shown good time trial ability in the past.

And the 30-year-old certainly isn’t ready to let anyone start crowning the Briton. “I would say that it’s the most important time trial I’ve done, coming in the last day and so close to giving victory,” said Uràn. “It’s the most important time trial I’ll do, tomorrow is the most important day of my career!

“The past isn’t important, what matters is the present and what happens tomorrow.

“Froome is a fine rider, he’s really strong. But he knows I’m good in time trials. I hope to do well.”

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‘Project Bardet’ gaining ground in Tour, but not yellow (yet) Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:08:45 +0000 Romain Bardet's Ag2r teammates are confident the rising French star will ride into the yellow jersey in future Tours de France.

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SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (VN) — Romain Bardet will return and win the Tour de France soon, says his Ag2r La Mondiale team after a close-fought battle with Chris Froome (Sky) in this 2017 edition.

Bardet sits 23 second back in second overall after 19 stages in the 2017 edition, fast improvement from an already strong ride in 2016. That year, the 26-year-old Frenchman finished second to Froome at 4:05.

“He’ll come back to win the Tour de France. I hope so, he deserves it,” teammate Jan Bakelants told VeloNews.

“He’s a very nice guy to work for, polite and intelligent. He’s a great leader to have. He knows how important a good team around him is, and I think we have that here. You see here that there is a great dynamic in the team that everything falls into place and everyone fights for the other.”

Bardet started the race without his right-hand man Clément Chevrier, who had a crash and head trauma early this year. The two grew up racing together and often escape on wine tasting trips. The French WorldTour team still created a solid fortress around France’s star. Belgian champion Oliver Naesen steamrolled the flats. Mathias Frank, Pierre Latour, and Alexis Vuillermoz sheltered him on the high passes.

“Already he is very strong,” Ben Gastauer said. “He also has the head, the mentality to fight for a long time and never give up. That makes a difference for three weeks.

“If you don’t risk anything then you will not win. He is focused on winning at all costs, the rest, second place for example, is not very important.”

“He has the experience and is ready for the job,” said Naesen. “He’s at my age, 26, and he’s already been second one time. Sometimes you have to gamble it all to win it. If I was him I would do it the same. And he has been second before.”

Last year on the Mont Blanc stage, Bardet attacked when no one else seemed to be able or willing, to earn his second place overall with a stage win. This year, he tried another coup on the Galibier stage and poured everything into a last-ditch effort to overthrow Froome on the Izoard stage. Both days, Froome fended off the attacks.

Ag2r and France want to see him succeed. In doing so, he would become the first Frenchman to win the home race since 1985 when Bernard Hinault won.

This year it is not to be. In fact, he risks sliding down to third overall in the 22.5-kilometer Marseille stage given Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) sits right behind him and time trials that much better.

However, Vincent Lavenu and the team are building a long-term project off a series of top-10 finishes since 2014. He now has his teammates like Chevrier and Mickaël Chérel, sport director Julien Jurdie, nutritionist Denis Riché, and even his preferred bus driver Cyrille Bertino. The group joined as part of a four-year ‘Project Bardet’ that began in 2015.

“They have been looking for the next French winner for a long time,” Naesen continued. “I think he has the capacity to do so but just needs to improve a little bit. He needs to improve in the time trial but consider he’s only 26 years old.

“If anyone could’ve beat Froome, I expected that Romain Bardet could have this year. And in the future he can keep battling because Froome is 32 and he’s not going to be the best forever. For now, Froome is the best but next year and the year after, I expect Romain to be at the top.”

“He is clearly a rider for the grand tours, and I don’t know if he always wants to do the Tour de France, but maybe he should try the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a España once,” added Gastauer. “Even if it didn’t come this year, he will win the Tour soon.”

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Tweets de France: Social media’s impact on cycling’s biggest race Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:34:16 +0000 In the modern era, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media influence the Tour de France just as much as the riders and teams.

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BRIANÇON, France (VN) — The 2017 Tour de France may someday be remembered less for the battle between Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Urán, and more for the victories of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Throughout this Tour, the race’s most contentious moments — and there have been many — have taken a new life on social media. Fans have flooded Twitter and Facebook with slow-motion video clips and GIFs of the controversial moments. They have also used social platforms to praise and attack riders and team staff involved in the disputes.

In some instances, the social chatter reached into the race like an invisible hand. Some riders and staff now avoid contentious situations for fear of the online repercussions. Others use social platforms to actively fan the flames of debate in hopes that the online masses can help enact change.

“It feels like social media gets bigger every year here,” said Jack Bauer of team Quick-Step Floors. “Especially when there are incidents in the race that polarize opinions.”

Sagan’s ouster and the fallout

The Tour’s first scandal erupted on stage 4 when the UCI jury disqualified Peter Sagan. The world champion crashed with Mark Cavendish in the sprint finish. Initial video appeared to show Sagan elbow Cavendish into the barriers.

In the wake of the crash — which knocked Cavendish out of the race with a fractured scapula — Twitter exploded with debate. Was Sagan to blame? Was Cavendish at fault?

Ralph Scherzer, who oversees Bora-Hansgrohe’s social media, said the team’s social accounts received thousands of negative and accusative comments about Sagan’s elbows in the minutes after the finish. An hour later, however, Tour broadcasters and fans posted slow-motion video of the incident online, which went viral. A new storyline emerged: Perhaps Cavendish’s handlebars knocked Sagan’s elbow forward.

Scherzer said the Twitter comments toward the team immediately shifted from outrage to support.

“The first one and a half hours was really not that good because everybody thought it was Peter’s mistake after seeing the first pictures from the front,” Scherzer said. “When the other point of views popped up, people saw something different. Within two hours, most of the comments were to support us.”

It was a much different story with Cavendish and his Dimension Data team, which filed a complaint with the race after the crash. Team director Roger Hammond tweeted that he believed Sagan should be ousted.

“Causes a big crash at 1.5 to go, elbows fellow competitor in the head 300 meters … can only result in one decision.”

The tweet quickly circulated online, generating a wave of negative feedback. Sagan, the peloton’s most popular rider, has 718,000 followers on Twitter and 1 million on Facebook. Hammond eventually closed his Twitter account for the remainder of the race. Dimension Data’s public relations team banned him from commenting on the matter.

“We use our social channels to promote our charity work around the bicycle,” a team representative said.

Cavendish also felt the backlash. The day after the crash, Cavendish posted a video on his social Twitter account to address the crash. He asked fans to stop harassing his family on social media.

“Vile and threatening comments on social media to myself and my family isn’t deserved,” Cavendish said in a video. “I ask you all to respect that please not send threatening or abusive language to myself and my family.”

As the race continued, riders seemed wary of attracting any attention online. German sprinter André Greipel went on Twitter to apologize for being critical of Sagan on a television broadcast.

When the race’s next incident occurred —Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni punched Bauer during stage 10 — both riders simply stayed quiet. Bauer did not even acknowledge the incident at the stage finish, or mention it online. When video surfaced of the punch, Bauer simply told reporters it “was part of cycling.”

Days later, Bauer said he kept quiet because he was wary of generating yet another massive controversy.

“If you want to know what I think, people can talk to me in person because I don’t broadcast it online,” Bauer said. “I think [social media] very often blows these things out of proportion.”

Tweets vs. the UCI

After Sagan’s expulsion, Scherzer said fans reached out via Facebook and Twitter to try and exonerate the sprinter. A group of physics students told him they could prove Sagan’s innocence with a mathematic analysis the video clips. Others sent in clips that were slowed down and zoomed in on the point of contact.

Scherzer made a strategic decision not to share any of the content across the team’s social channels. He tweeted out news of Sagan’s expulsion and the team’s failed appeal to the CAS, but did not challenge the ruling via a statement.

“We didn’t want to influence the official part of the race — we wanted people to make their own decision,” Scherzer said. “It’s not in our attitude to get the public involved.”

One week later, the Cannondale-Drapac team adopted a much different strategy after the UCI docked Rigoberto Urán 20 seconds for taking a water bottle several kilometers from the finish line. The UCI jury penalized Urán, Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo). However it did not penalize French rider Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), the eventual stage winner, who also took a swig of water.

After complaining to the UCI, Cannondale-Drapac team boss Jonathan Vaughters took his grievances to social media. He tweeted his displeasure with the ruling and then posted a video to Instagram showing Bardet taking a drink. He tweeted that the inconsistent ruling was due to “incompetence.”

“I absolutely used Twitter to leverage every bit of support I could to change the situation,” Vaughters said. “We played the official channels as best we could, and when we were shut down, we did it.”

Vaughters then live-tweeted his interaction with the UCI jury, going so far as to inform his followers that the UCI representatives had not responded to his calls and texts. When he did contact the UCI, he tweeted out news from the phone conversation. He said that the person who had conducted the feed was not a team employee, but rather a fan in a team shirt.

In each of the tweets, Vaughters linked to the official UCI twitter feed. Fans retweeted the posts thousands of times.

“It was a point-by-point strategy to put lots of pressure on the commissars to reconsider,” Vaughters said. “Every now and then you need to turn on the switch, and I thought there was a genuine injustice.”

The day after the ruling, the UCI jury reversed its decision and removed the time penalties for all riders. A UCI representative said that the social media pressure did not influence the decision. In a statement, the UCI said, “As with all sports, cycling fans often have very strong and passionate opinions. Like any governing body, we do of course listen to our fans.”

A statement provided by Tour de France owner ASO said that it also does not “react to team or fan commentaries” on social media. ASO employs four staffers to monitor its social channels for comments from riders and teams. They then decide whether to repeat the sentiments online.

Vaughters believes his tweets influenced the UCI’s decision. In a text conversation with a UCI official, Vaughters said the official was weary of the negative online feedback the water-bottle incident had generated.

No matter if his vocal online presence worked or not, Vaughters said the ordeal speaks to a new potential strategy for teams.

“I don’t think it is something you can do too often — maybe once every two years or so,” Vaugthers said. “Social media is supposed to be a place to be goofy and make fart jokes.”

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Froome: Landa could challenge for yellow next year Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:29:20 +0000 Mikel Linda is slated to leave Sky for another team at the end of this year as he seeks to be a team's top rider.

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COL D’IZOARD, France (AFP) — Mikel Landa can come back next year and challenge Chris Froome for a Tour de France victory, the current champion believes.

Landa, Froome’s Sky teammate, sat fourth at the Tour after Thursday’s final mountain stage at 1:36 behind Froome despite working for him throughout the race.

The 27-year-old Spaniard has already said he’s leaving Sky at the end of the year to look for a role as a team leader. Froome has no doubts he will come back in 2018 to challenge the Briton, who is on the brink of a fourth Tour victory.

“He did have a tough first week in this year’s race but keeping in mind he did the Giro d’Italia, he’s come up through the race remarkably well,” said Froome.

“He’s really been there for me in the moments when it’s been tough up there in the mountains. I’m extremely grateful for that.

“He’s got the engine to ride with the best in the world and he’s certainly capable of coming back to contest the overall victory.”

Landa has already set out his goal: he wants to be No. 1.

“Let’s be clear about this, this can’t happen to me again. I won’t go back to being a No. 2 [rider],” he told journalists on the second rest day.

In 2015, he played second fiddle to Fabio Aru at the Giro d’Italia, giving up his own aspirations to help the Italian, who finished second to Alberto Contador while Landa was third.

It was one of the reasons he then left Astana to join Sky, ostensibly to be the team leader at the Giro.

However, illness cost him and he quit the race after 10 stages when sitting eighth overall in 2015. Earlier this year as a co-leader with Geraint Thomas, a crash in stage 9 ended his overall hopes, although he battled back to win the mountains jersey.

But still, his Giro woes have seen him spend two years riding as Froome’s domestique in the Tour.

What Landa wants now is an unequivocal role as team leader, wherever he can get it.


“You have to make the right decision relating to your personal objectives,” said Landa.

“I’ve been through that experience with Astana and it’s happening again. Life is about the decisions you make for your own interests and the confidence you have in yourself.”

Landa has a lot of self-confidence and hasn’t been afraid to show his strength at this Tour, much like Froome did when riding as Bradley Wiggins’s chief domestique in 2012.

While Wiggins seemed to be annoyed by questions about whether or not Froome could beat him if given free reign, the latter has spent much time praising his Basque teammate this year and repeatedly thanking him for his efforts.

“Mikel Landa has been a brilliant teammate, absolutely amazing,” Froome said Wednesday.

“He’s getting stronger and stronger the further into the race we go. He has the potential to finish on the podium.”

When Landa leaves at the end of the year, it won’t be the first time Froome has lost a key teammate with lofty personal ambitions.

Rigoberto Uran had ridden for Froome in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana before leaving at the end of 2013 to pursue his own grand tour ambitions. He finished runner-up at the 2013 and 2014 Giro d’Italia and is now set for a podium finish at the Tour.

Richie Porte was a key helper to Froome in his 2013 and 2015 Tour victories but grew tired of waiting for his own chance, especially after his bid for Giro glory in 2015 ended early after a crash.

He was expected to be Froome’s biggest rival this year but again crashed out.

Next year, Froome is likely to line up against a former lieutenant, now hell bent on taking his title.

And Landa could be the man to finally manage that.

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Cannondale-Drapac partners with media conglomerate Oath Fri, 21 Jul 2017 12:32:34 +0000 The media company owns several brands, including Yahoo and AOL.

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Cannondale-Drapac took a step toward securing its financial future on Friday as it announced a new partnership with digital media company Oath, the parent company of several major media brands including HuffPost, Yahoo, AOL, Engadget, and TechCrunch.

Oath will add its own branding, or possibly that of one of its media subsidiaries, to Cannondale’s kit and team vehicles beginning in 2018, but will not be the presenting sponsor. Slipstream CEO Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews that one of the company’s subsidiaries may end up showing up on the team’s kit. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

As part of the partnership, Oath and the team will produce and distribute video and other media content from inside the world of professional cycling.

“This partnership will allow us to open up the team in terms of content well beyond what most of the world audience sees,” Vaughters said.

Vaughters has been open about his team’s search for a sponsor to secure its future in the peloton this year, writing a story for Business Insider and speaking with The Wall Street Journal. Cannondale rider Rigoberto Urán is third in the general classification at the Tour de France, 29 seconds behind leader Chris Froome (Sky) — a podium finish could help in the organization’s search for more sponsor dollars.

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Froome’s fourth Tour win imminent Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:57:17 +0000 Chris Froome and Team Sky are confident with only one final test left in the Tour de France, their favored time trial discipline.

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BRIANÇON, France (VN) — Chris Froome’s fourth Tour de France title appears sewn up, provided he arrives in Paris on Sunday in one piece.

The 32-year-old Kenya-born Brit never looked more in control than he did on the famous Col d’Izoard summit finish Thursday in the French Alps. Any hopes of an upset by Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) or Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac), now second and third overall, were dashed by Froome.

Froome leads the overall with 23 seconds on Frenchman Bardet and 29 seconds on Colombian Urán, racing for the U.S. team run by Jonathan Vaughters.

“Even though the Tour isn’t over until you cross the line, I believe we sewed it up today,” Sky teammate Mikel Landa said. “The time trial [stage 20, Saturday] favors Chris, who is feeling strong to finish it off.”

Froome finishing it off would put him ahead of Greg LeMond and two others with three wins. He’d become the only cyclist with four yellow jerseys, because the greats went on to win five times. That is Froome’s goal with a new contract inked this month that runs through 2020.

The fourth title is imminent, assuming Froome passes the time trial exam, 22.5 kilometers around Marseille on Saturday. For a team and rider who excels in the discipline, it should be simple. And based on past results against the same rivals, he should push his advantage further on the eve of the Paris finish.

“I wouldn’t say it is quite won yet,” Froome said with a laugh from the tiny press tent at 2,360 meters. “The toughest part of the Tour is behind us with Alps and Pyrénées done. We have the yellow jersey, Landa sits fourth. It is still a close race, but we are in a good position.”

The win would go toward cementing Froome as this generation’s grand tour boss with Alberto Contador, seven grand tours in his books, withering. Froome would begin to take charge with newcomers continuously budding, from Tom Dumoulin to Esteban Chaves.

If Froome secures his fourth win in Paris, he should confirm his Vuelta a España participation soon after. Those close to the cyclist say that he remains bitter about coming so close, but losing the race last year in a coup by Nairo Quintana and Contador.

First, Froome must finish the time trial in Marseille as experts predict. The insiders’ insights proved wrong in 2008, when Cadel Evans failed to best overall Carlos Sastre for the win. Upsets are uncommon, but not unheard of in the Tour’s final days.

“Obviously it’s not won, but it’s better to be in yellow before the time trial,” Sky’s director Nicolas Portal explained. “There’s no room for a mistake or any bad luck. In theory, Chris is a better time trial rider in than the others, but it’s a tiny gap.”

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Urán podium could aid Cannondale-Drapac’s sponsor hunt Thu, 20 Jul 2017 19:46:16 +0000 Cannondale-Drapac has been public about its search for a new sponsor, and Rigoberto Urán's magic Tour de France may aid the effort.

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BRIANÇON, France (VN)—For much of 2017, Cannondale-Drapac team owner Jonathan Vaughters has undertaken a very public hunt for cash.

In May, Vaughters penned a column for about why pro cycling presents, “the best sponsorship deal in sports … That brands are missing out on.” He then made a public appeal for sponsorship dollars in an interview with The Wall Street Journaltelling columnist Jason Gay that he was open to bringing on an equity partner — not just a cash sponsor — if the arrangement was right.

The hunt continued through this Tour de France. On the Tour’s second rest day, Vaughters told reporters that he was “super-optimistic” that he would land a new sponsor sometime during the race.

Could a podium finish at this year’s Tour de France for Rigoberto Urán close the deal? Vaughters hopes so. Cannondale-Drapac operates on about $15 million each year, compared Team Sky with approximately $40 million.

“Yeah, I hope somebody picks up the newspaper and realizes here is this team with $40 million and here is this team with a quarter of that, and they’re almost doing just as well as the team with $40 million,” Vaugthers said. “Maybe they’ll go: ‘I’ll give them some coins out of my back pocket.'”

Cannondale and Urán took one step closer to a podium finish in Paris during Thursday’s stage 18, which finished with the ascent of the hulking Col du Izoard climb. French team Ag2r La Mondiale set a crushing tempo up the lower slopes of the climb to set up French star Romain Bardet. Urán battled to stay with Bardet and Sky’s Chris Froome and Mikel Landa as the four traded attacks to the line.

After Landa launched a major attack, which was reeled in by Bardet, Froome was next to go. Urán put in his biggest surge of the day to bring back the two-time defending champion.

Urán lacked the acceleration to stay with Bardet and Froome in the waning meters, ceding two seconds to the duo, which dropped him to third place. (He had been tied for second after stage 17.) He now sits 29 seconds behind Froome and just six seconds behind Bardet.

A talented time trialist, Urán could leapfrog Bardet during Saturday’s stage 20 individual time trial in Marseille.

“The important thing was to stay at the front and not lose time,” Urán said. “We suffered on the Izoard, it was really tough, but it was good for me.”

The ascent of the Izoard marked the second consecutive stage in which Urán did not attack. Rather, he used his efforts to mark Bardet, Froome, and Landa. During Wednesday’s stage 17, Urán followed moves by Bardet and Landa and then earned 17 bonus seconds in the sprint for second place. Bardet was critical of Urán’s tactics, telling reporters that “[Urán] is just happy to follow and take bonus seconds on the line.”

Charly Wegelius, Cannondale’s sports director, said Urán was going for the win on Thursday, rather than defending his spot on the podium.

“When you have a mountaintop finish three days from the finish line, you’re going to go for it,” Wegelius said.

A podium finish would stand alongside the best results for Vaughters’s Slipstream organization, which previously had Garmin as its title sponsor. Since Slipstream entered the WorldTour in 2009 the team has won Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as well as the Giro d’Italia. Its best GC finish at the Tour came that year, when Bradley Wiggins finished fourth. He was later bumped to third when Lance Armstrong was disqualified three years later.

Since then the team has struggled at the Tour, failing to place anyone inside the top-five in general classification. In 2015 and 2016, the team left the Tour nearly empty-handed. It won zero stages and had no riders inside the top 10.

Twice a podium finisher at the Giro, Urán joined the squad in 2016. He had a number of close calls, finishing third at Il Lombardia and then seventh at the Tour. In early 2016, the team said that Urán would take a step back from grand tours in 2017. He would instead focus on the Ardennes classics.

Vaughters said that plan changed once Tour de France organizer ASO revealed the 2017 route. The route featured few days in the mountains, and a limited number of time trial kilometers.

At the finish line of Thursday’s stage, Vaughters said he did not regret the decision.

“[A podium] would be a beautiful thing, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’re a racing team so we gotta race for the win. If it doesn’t work out we gotta be happy.”

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Romain Bardet racing Le Tour without regrets Thu, 20 Jul 2017 19:15:42 +0000 Frenchman Romain Bardet and his Ag2r La Mondiale team did everything they could to wrest yellow from Chris Froome. It wasn't enough.

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BRIANÇON, France (VN) — “Pas de regrets.” These three simple words, both a goal and a state of mind, opened and closed Ag2r’s morning meeting on the last mountain stage of the Tour de France. The team would land atop the Col d’Izoard having done everything, tried everything, regretting nothing.

“We said that we would take any opportunity that presented itself. We wanted to put the peloton in difficulty, put principal favorites in difficulty,” said Ag2r director Julien Jurdie, “We tried.”

It was a daunting task. Romain Bardet needed the better part of a minute on Chris Froome to have any chance of taking yellow to Paris. That pesky Marseille time trial will certainly be his undoing. He was up against a better team and a Froome who has shown only a brief moment of weakness across nearly three weeks.

Against such odds, what is there to do but try? Five hours after that meeting inside Ag2r’s team bus, the crowd atop the Izoard roared in near-unison as Bardet stomped forth yet again, forward and away from Froome, if only for a moment. A few meters was the farthest he would get.

Unable to break Sky’s fortress and Froome’s legs, the young Frenchman was forced to settle for four bonus seconds. They moved him into second place, ahead of Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) by six seconds. With a difficult time trial ahead, Bardet’s chances of snatching yellow are now effectively gone.

And yet, pas de regrets.

“I wanted to attack early but there was a big headwind, plus three or four guys from Sky,” Bardet said nearly half an hour after the finish, still in his kit, a warm towel wrapped around his neck. “I preferred to wait until the last moment — I gave it a go, and I gave my best.”

Ag2r took charge on Thursday. With more than 50km remaining, it put the entire squad, from big Belgian champion Oliver Naessen to climbing super domestique Alexis Vuillermoz, at the front of the pack. The goal was to fatigue their rivals, Jurdie said. Particularly Urán, who started the stage tied on time with Bardet. That was the plan: Put the whole team into a single goal, no matter how optimistic.

Pas de regrets, after all.

Sky let them do it, happy to save its bullets for later.

Some questioned the tactic. Ag2r was out of domestiques with 10km left on the Izoard. Bardet was isolated while Froome still had two teammates. Urán was still there. The plan hadn’t quite worked.

That early work was simply laying a foundation, though. Bardet needed bonus seconds, so he had to mop up the break. And if you’re shooting high, sometimes it’s just better to shoot for the moon.

“We wanted to win the stage and take yellow. That is really hard to do,” said Naessen. “If you can go all out and, in the end, you move up one place, then we know we did our best. We can only hope for a miracle in the time trial now on Saturday.”

Bardet will need a miracle. The Izoard was his last real shot at gaining time, and he couldn’t do so. His team smashed through the valley, Vuillermoz rode his eyes out up the Izoard’s lower slopes. Still, it was not enough.

Was there anything else that could have been done?

“No. We all gave our best, and its a good thing, the last race we do is a step forward. I’m pretty happy with the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

“I really gave everything on the road,” he said. “Pas de regrets.”

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Landa follows script but wonders what might have been Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:54:01 +0000 Mikel Landa tried for a stage win on the Col d'Izoard, but Team Sky's myriad objectives kept him from flying truly free.

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Mikel Landa (Sky) was finally given a chance to spread his wings in this Tour de France, but he was still on a tether.

On the upper flanks of one of the most iconic climbs in the Tour in stage 18, Landa was set free, but with a very strict flight plan. He could only try to win the stage if Chris Froome’s GC position remained unthreatened.

“It was a planned move,” Landa told reporters at the line. “We wanted to set it up so either Froome or I won the stage. We were going for everything: the stage, the podium, and to widen the gap on GC.”

Team Sky wanted it all on the Col d’Izoard, the last mountain of the 2017 Tour.

First of all, it aimed to secure what’s likely to be a fourth yellow jersey for Froome by crushing the opposition. Second, its riders were racing for the stage win. Ideally Froome would break his winless streak. Landa was a second option. And finally, Sky tried to position Landa for the final podium with Froome in Paris on Sunday.

Overall, the team’s efforts missed the mark. The victory escaped Froome. Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) remain too close for comfort on GC.

As for Landa? The threat he presented to the other GC rivals meant everyone chased him down. Now fourth, he’s still more than one minute out of third.

The Paris podium is so close, yet so far away.

“It almost looks impossible,” Landa said of the podium. “I am more than a minute behind two very strong riders. I won’t give up the fight. I am curious how I will perform in the time trial in Marseille. I moved up one spot on GC ahead of [Fabio] Aru, so why not dream?”

The 27-year-old will leave this Tour wondering what could have been.

In the most decisive climbing stages, Landa looked stronger than Froome. Many wondered if Landa would break rank, go rogue, and attack his team leader. Three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond even suggested as much in an interview with Reuters.

The Basque climber remained loyal to the end in this Tour.

“My dilemma is to be caught between what the fans want, and what I have to do,” Landa told the Spanish daily AS. “I knew that coming into the Tour, but it’s still hard to believe there is not a ‘prize’ in it for me … but we have to be happy with the way things turned out. Froomey is first and I am fourth with three days to go.”

Even though this Tour is not yet over, the future is very much on his mind. He will leave Sky at the end of 2017 — most likely heading to Movistar, according to the rumor mill. He wants a leadership role in the future.

His 2017 season was marked with setbacks and triumphs. An early crash at the Giro d’Italia derailed his GC ambitions, but he bounced back to win a mountain stage and the best climber’s jersey.

And during this Tour, he rode loyally at Froome’s flank, emerging as a future yellow jersey contender.

Froome didn’t balk when someone asked him if Landa could come back to be a rival at the Tour.

“I wouldn’t argue with that,” Froome said. “He has the engine to be there with the best in the world. He has it to contest for the overall victory in the future.”

With three stages to go, Landa will do his part to help Froome win the Tour. Saturday’s time trial presents one long-shot opportunity to reach the podium.

There are no more mountains in this Tour. Landa is a rider who does his best hunting in the steeps. But next year, it could be Froome vs. Landa.

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