Road – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:15:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Road – 32 32 Young French rider killed in crash Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:15:12 +0000 A 20-year-old French racer was killed after striking a vehicle going the wrong way on a road, French media reported Friday.

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A 20-year-old French racer was killed after striking a vehicle going the wrong way on a road, French media reported Friday.

The French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Mathieu Riebel was killed during a crash at the Tour Air France of New Caledonia. According to reports, Riebel struck the windshield of an ambulance traveling the opposite direction of the race at nearly 80kph while chasing back to the front group on a descent. Traffic was not completely blocked on the race course, and Riebel suffered fatal injuries from the impact, L’Equipe reported. Another teammate broke his leg in the high-speed impact that shook the race organization on the French territory island in the South Pacific.

Race organizers confirmed the incident on a note posted on its Facebook page.

“Riders, teams, companions, participants in Au Tour d’Elles, journalists; everyone found out with great sadness and shock of the tragic accident that happened on the descent of the Col de la Pirogue,” the note read. “Which cost Mathieu Riebel his life, and Erwan Brenterch a serious injury, both of the Shell Pacific team.”

Organized said Riebel was helping Brenterch to chase back to group after a mechanical on “the high-speed descent when the collision occurred.”

Organizers cancelled the stage, offered condolences to the family, and said Saturday’s final stage will be neutralized, with a group ride up the final summit to Mont Dere.

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Astana left without a top GC captain; Vinokourov disappointed to see Aru go Fri, 20 Oct 2017 15:32:15 +0000 Fabio Aru's departure to the UAE Team Emirates for the 2018 season and beyond has left Team Astana without a veteran GC leader.

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Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov couldn’t hide his disappointment that Fabio Aru decided to jump ship.

The Italian star left the team where he made his pro debut in 2012, and penned a three-year deal to join UAE-Emirates. In what appeared to be an open secret was a bit of a shock, at least according to Vinokourov.

“Aru had another optional year with us, and he never warned us of his desire to leave,” Vinokourov told L’Equipe. “We asked him what his plans were on numerous occasions, but he never answered us.”

Aru’s exit leaves Astana in a bind. One of the peloton’s best-funded teams will enter next year’s WorldTour racing season without a major grand tour contender on its roster.

Vinokourov said the team only learned of Aru’s departure when he read the official team press release Tuesday, just hours before the course presentation of the 2018 Tour de France.

“I only learned about it in the press release. I am very disappointed in him,” Vinokourov said. “It puts us in a difficult situation because of the time of year. It will be impossible to find a replacement of his level, someone able to win the Tour de France.”

With most of the major GC stars committed to contracts, Vinokourov will have almost no chance to find a top rider to take Aru’s place at this stage of a busy transfer season.

Vinokourov said that the team explored signing Rigoberto Urán when it appeared Cannondale-Drapac might fold. He also revealed that Nairo Quintana’s agent approached the team during the Tour about possible interest in signing with the Kazakhs.

Neither of those options panned out. Urán is staying with the renamed Education First-Drapac team for 2018, while Quintana also confirmed intention to stay with Movistar.

Without Aru, and the departure of Vincenzo Nibali to Bahrain-Merida at the end of 2015 coupled with the tragic death of Michele Scarponi this spring, leaves the powerful Astana team without a marquee rider to lead in the grand tours.

Jakob Fuglsang, seventh in the 2013 Tour, will be back for next season. Injury knocked the 32-year-old out of this year’s Tour after taking a dramatic victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. Miguel Ángel López, 23, will see more opportunities, but he only completed his first grand tour last month at the Vuelta a España, riding to eighth overall with two stage wins. Neither is considered front-line yellow jersey contenders.

Aru is the latest arrival to the bolstered UAE-Emirates roster for 2018 that also includes new arrivals Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff, and Rory Sutherland.

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Lawson Craddock: ‘The 2018 season definitely needs to be different from 2017’ Fri, 20 Oct 2017 13:16:12 +0000 Lawson Craddock had a down year in 2017 and looks to prove in 2018 that he deserves to ride in the WorldTour.

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NANNING, China (VN) — American Lawson Craddock’s “2018 season definitely needs to be different” after overdoing it in 2017.

Craddock, who recently re-signed with Cannondale-Drapac for 2018, began the 2017 season too hot and paid the price.

“Yeah, it definitely needs to be different in 2018!” Craddock told VeloNews. “It’s been a pretty rough year for me both on and off the bike.

“Honestly I’m just looking to ending this year on a decent note and coming back next year and showing what I’m capable of, which is a pretty high standard I hold myself too.”

Craddock sat waiting for the team’s meeting ahead of stage two of the Tour of Guangxi in South China. He listened to the sports director and prepared for his final race of 2017.

This 2017 season he had hoped to perform with the best in the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France, but over-training and over-dieting left him exhausted.

“This year, it’s not like I had a weird issue, I was just too motivated early on in the year and over-cooked it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you keep trying to come back and you aren’t prepared to do so. And some personal stuff too.

“I know I’m capable of great things in this sport. I’ve shown a glimmer of that before. I like to come out and show that I can be there with the best. And I know I can be there with the best. I’ll just focus on what I need to do to do that.”

The 25-year-old Texan raced professionally with Giant-Sunweb for 2014 and 2015. He joined Cannondale-Drapac for 2016. In those seasons, he rode the Tour de France, placed third and fifth overall in the Tour of California, and ninth overall in the País Vasco. In 2017, he expected more of the same, or better.

After a disappointing start, he tried to reach his best in time for the Tour of California in May. That ended with only 113th overall. Other races ended with a DNF – did not finish – beside his name.

“It just hasn’t been an easy year all around. If anything, it’s given me a chip on my shoulder to come back and prove next year that I do belong in the top-level of this sport.”

Craddock signed a one-year extension with the Slipstream Sports team, which came back from near collapse thanks to new sponsor EF Education First. He is due to meet with the managers this winter to discuss his race schedule. He maintains high ambitions.

“I’d love to get a victory because I still haven’t won a race yet in four years of the WorldTour. It’s not easy, for sure,” he added. “I want to have a good result in the early spring races like País Vasco and try to go for something at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and find myself back in the Tour de France and maybe go for a stage win there.”

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Riders react to shortened La Course Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:03:53 +0000 The women's La Course race returns to a one-day format, which has some riders disappointed, despite promising route.

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On Tuesday, ASO revealed plans for the 2018 version of La Course by Le Tour de France, the race’s fifth running since its 2014 debut. Scheduled for July 17 in conjunction with stage 11 of the men’s race, La Course has been shortened to a one-day race (in 2017 it was two stages). The 2018 version includes 118km of racing and finishes in Le Grand Bornand.

VeloNews reached out to current and past members of the women’s pro peloton for perspective on the new format. The reaction was mixed, with riders expressing both disappointment that it is a one-day event and optimism about the challenging course.

“They’ve just kind of like punched us in the guts again with another one-day event,” said Carlee Taylor (Ale Cipollini). “I think the whole women’s peloton, to be honest, is probably pretty disappointed.”

Retired British rider Emma Pooley called the new route a “missed opportunity.”

“I think they have a great opportunity to build a stage race out of La Course,” Pooley said. “It’s great they have a race, I just think they could do a lot more with it. ASO are leaders in cycling and I think they have a great position where they could show leadership. I think it would be great if they could develop it a little bit more.”

For the first three years, 2014-2016, La Course was held on the Champs the morning of the Tour’s stage 21 finale. In 2017, the race moved to the mountains and debuted an unorthodox two-day format. ASO staged a 67.5km race to the top of Col d’Izoard. That was followed by an unconventional pursuit time trial in Marseille, two days later. Orica-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten won both races.

“It was nice they tried something different,” said Australian racer Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM). “At the end of the day it was a fantastic day, but I still would have liked to have seen a much bigger stage.”

For many fans of women’s cycling and some of the riders, La Course 2017 was too short. Pooley said the mountain stage up the Izoard represented progression, but the short 67.5km stage length was not ideal.

“It’s almost humiliating,” Pooley said. “The Etape riders, the sportive riders, do the full distance. Women are really capable of a longer stage than that.”

Pooley, an Olympic silver medalist in 2008 and world champion in 2010, believes ASO should instead expand La Course to a multi-day stage race. The goal of the event should be to create a women’s version of the Tour de France, she said.

“I did get the feeling from ASO that they were annoyed by the hassle of having to deal with women wanting a race and then having to arrange a women’s race,” she said.

Pooley thinks an expanded La Course is a business opportunity for ASO.

“You can see amongst new women’s races like the [OVO] Women’s Tour in the UK, how well a women’s race sells as an entertainment and media event,” Pooley added. “It’s brilliant for people to watch they love it. It seems to me like the ASO are really missing an opportunity for their sponsors.”

The OVO Women’s Tour is a five-day race that covered 650 kilometers of racing June 7-11 in Britain this year. According to organizers, the 2017 race attracted 500,000 spectators; 1.4 million people watched the highlights program in the UK with more watching abroad in almost 100 countries.

Cromwell shares Pooley’s perspective, hoping La Course will expand to a multi-stage race. “Align it with the men’s so we benefit from the crowds,” Cromwell said. “Logistically I know it’s challenging, but ideally that’s what you want. There’s something special about how big the TDF is.”

The dream of a proper women’s Tour de France will have to wait. Fortunately, for 2018, the new route should afford exciting racing, albeit in a single-day format. “I’m glad it’s in the mountains next year and that it’s a bit longer so it’s a decent length next year,” Pooley said.

“Going back to one day of racing is definitely a bit of a disappointment, but the 2018 course sounds like a good one and hopefully will help us continue to build in the future,” said American Ruth Winder, who will transfer from UnitedHealthcare to Sunweb for 2018.

“The course is exciting,” Cromwell added. “It’s the biggest stage we have from an exposure point of view. It’s nice that we finally have a true race.”

Caley Fretz contributed to this report.

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VeloNews Show: Is the 2018 TDF innovative or gimmicky? Thu, 19 Oct 2017 17:09:55 +0000 Tour organizers stun the cycling world with an unusual Tour de France route for 2018. Should we be excited or appalled?

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Editor’s note: This VeloNews Show includes images from, BrakeThrough Media, Flickr Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons, YouTube/Cycling Sports, YouTube/Le Tour de France, YouTube/UCI, YouTube/La Vuelta, YouTube/Gravel Guru.

Organizer ASO stunned the cycling world with an unusual Tour de France route for 2018. It has cobblestones, a super-short climbing stage, precious few time trial kilometers, and even a bit of dirt road. Is the Tour de France headed in the right direction with an innovative approach to spice up the race? Or, are these just gimmicks that detract from the Grande Boucle’s heritage?

Plus, we discuss the 2018 La Course route. ASO has found another climber-friendly route for the Women’s WorldTour race, but is one day enough for what should be the season’s marquee event?

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Four breakthrough riders to follow in 2018 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 13:24:17 +0000 We highlight four young riders who had big seasons in 2017 and who we expect to continue their success next year.

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Each season, young riders emerge from the peloton with breakthrough victories. Were they one-off blazes of glory? Are they simply prelude to even bigger successes? I picked four riders and neatly pigeonholed them into categories (for better or for worse): Cobblestone classics, Ardennes classics, sprints, and grand tour GC. We can expect big things from them in 2018.

Cobbled classics: Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors)

Yves Lampaert
Yves Lampaert is one of Quick-Step’s rising cobblestone stars. Photo: Tim De Waele |

If you were sleeping on Yves Lampaert in 2017, I’ll give you a pass. After all, he was riding on Belgian superteam Quick-Step Floors, during the spring when Tom Boonen rode his farewell Paris-Roubaix and Philippe Gilbert returned to glory, winning Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race.

Now, it’s time to forget about those aging Belgians and look to Lampaert, 26, who had an incredible 2017. He won Dwars door Vlaanderen, his first maiden WorldTour victory. Then, he won Belgian national time trial championships. And finally, Lampaert finished the season with a flourish, winning stage 2 of the Vuelta. He appears to be quite versatile, but bet on him to prioritize the classics. He was fifth in the 2015 Paris-Roubaix and won a stage at Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen that season.

What to expect in 2018: Another spring classics win, but perhaps not a monument, a couple stage wins in one-week races.
Dream scenario in 2018: Two second-tier classics wins, the overall at De Panne-Koksijde, a stage win in a grand tour.

Ardennes classics: Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing)

Dylan Teuns
Dylan Teuns had an unbelievable run of victories in late July and early August. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Although Teuns is a Flandrien, it seems the Walloon hills are his destiny. The 25-year-old punched onto the podium in Fleche Wallonne, third to Dan Martin and winner Alejandro Valverde. He was quiet at the Giro d’Italia. Then, Teuns had a magical three weeks in late July and early August. He notched his first professional win at the HC-classified Tour de Wallonie, stage 3, and went on to win stage 5 as well as the overall. He went on to win three more stages and two overall titles in the Tour of Poland and Arctic Race of Norway, both WorldTour races.

What to expect in 2018: Another Ardennes podium, an overall win in an HC-classified stage race.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins an Ardennes classic, wins a grand tour stage (but probably not the Tour), wins another week-long stage race.

Bunch sprints: Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Dylan Groenewegen
Dylan Groenewegen won the crown jewel of sprinter races: The final stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Tim De Waele |

He had us English-language headline writers groaning when he won the Tour’s final stage, but really, we’re excited to see a fresh sprinter come to the fore in Dylan Groenewegen. That victory on the Champs wasn’t a one-off, either. The 24-year-old Dutchman was third in stage 10 and second the next day in Pau.

Sure, Groenewegen wasn’t an unknown quantity this season, having won 2016 nationals and a stage at the Eneco Tour. However, his victory on the biggest stage in the world is on the next level.

What to expect in 2018: Wins a spring classic (likely Dwars door Vlaanderen or Scheldeprijs), wins another grand tour stage.
Dream scenario in 2018: Earns 10 victories — two spring classics, a Tour stage, and a handful of stages at major one-week races like Paris-Nice.

Grand tour GC: Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)

Miguel Angel Lopez
Miguel Angel Lopez won two stages at the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Like Groenewegen, Lopez showed his stuff in 2016. But the man who won Tour de Suisse and Milano-Torino that year is now a legitimate GC hopeful for the grand tours. The Colombian they call “Superman” won stages 11 and 15 at the Vuelta en route to an eighth-place overall result. If you’re keeping score at home, he was more than 10 minutes ahead of Astana teammate Fabio Aru, who was supposedly the team leader in that race.

If I were running the Astana squad, Lopez would be first in line to lead a grand tour squad — perhaps even at the Tour de France. After all, this year’s route will favor an aggressive climber like the 23-year-old. And wouldn’t Aru prefer to race the Giro anyway?

What to expect in 2018: A stage win and top-10 overall result at the Tour de France.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins another one-week stage race, two Tour stages, and finishes top five at the Grande Boucle.

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Gaviria planning for new wave of success in 2018 classics, Tour Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:49:38 +0000 Fernando Gaviria sprinted to victory in stage 1 at the Tour of Guangxi Thursday.

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BEIHAI, China (VN) — Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) is building his 2018 season around being the first Colombian to conquer the cobbled classics and winning his first Tour de France stage.

The 23-year-old, who sprinted to victory in the first stage of the Tour of Guangxi in South China Thursday, is one of the top riders of his generation. This season, he won four Giro d’Italia stages in his grand tour debut.

“We already have a clear vision of the objectives and the calendar for 2018,” Gaviria said. “We’ll prepare for the classics in Colombia and Argentina [racing the Vuelta a San Juan].

“We’ll try to go to Europe in the best possible shape for the classics. I’m speaking of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. After which, we’ll start thinking of the Tour.”

No Colombian has ever been able to dominate the cobbled classics. The country is most known for its tiny climbers nicknamed escarabajos.

Gaviria broke through in 2015 by beating top sprint star Mark Cavendish twice in Argentina. However, right away he underlined his dream to dominate on northern Europe’s cobbles.

Quick-Step is the perfect place for any aspiring cobbled rider, with the Belgian team guiding many cyclists to the top — including recently retired Tom Boonen. Gaviria had his first taste of the cobbles this year, racing Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem. In the spring of 2018, however, he will have a full-immersion course alongside star riders Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert.

“He wanted to do Paris-Roubaix this year but his shape wasn’t where it needed to be,” Quick-Step general manager Patrick Lefevere said this summer.

“We decided it was better to send him home to Colombia so he could recover and train at altitude for the Giro. You saw the results. We don’t have the team to send a developing rider to the classics, we want to take him there ready.”

The classics campaign would form part of the two-pronged 2018 approach with the 2018 Tour de France. Gaviria already proved himself in his grand tour debut in the spring, dominating the sprints, winning four stages, and surviving through the mountains to win the Giro’s points jersey.

The Quick-Step team is completely backing Gaviria for the sprints in 2018, with star sprinter Marcel Kittel leaving for Katusha. Like the classics, the team is well-oiled having helped Kittel and, before that, Mark Cavendish in the Tour sprints.

“He’s young and fast, and I think he can take on Peter Sagan,” Lefevere added. “We need somebody to come up and challenge him because when Peter’s going at full-speed, nothing can be done and it becomes boring. The four stages in the Giro was huge for him. He’s a cannibal.”

If Gaviria could pull it off, he would help push cycling in Colombia to new levels. Already, it is enjoying a new generation of success with Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

“First of all, it’s Nairo who’s the most popular,” Gaviria said this year. “I don’t want the fame.”

Gaviria is closing out the 2017 season in the Tour of Guangxi. On Thursday, along the Beibu Gulf in Beihai, he sprinted ahead of the WorldTour peloton.

“The win looked easy only on television. Instead, it was a hard race: short, fast and at the end, one of the craziest sprints. It’s one of the fastest sprints I’ve ever done,” he said.

“I’m delighted to take a win in the last race of the year, which is the Tour of Guangxi.”

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Transfers: Teklehaimanot still looking, Brown re-ups with Slipstream Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:29:57 +0000 Several riders have signed new deals for 2018, while others such as Daniel Teklehaimanot are still seeking a WorldTour contract.

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Riders across the peloton are securing their contracts for the 2018 season, while others are still on the hunt for a spot in the WorldTour in what’s been a busy transfer season.

African pioneer Daniel Teklehaimanot is among those still looking to secure a WorldTour contract for next year. The 28-year-old Eritrean is racing this week at the Gree-Tour of Guangxi hoping to impress before the season closes.

“I really want to find a team to help me to continue on my career path,” Teklehaimanot said. “It’s a shame to leave Dimension Data, but hopefully I can find a team, and also help me inspire the next generation of African cyclists.”

Teklehaimanot is coming off four seasons with Dimension Data and two seasons before that with Orica-Scott. A product of the UCI’s World Cycling Center, he was seventh overall at the Tour of Austria this year and wore the king of the mountains jersey for two stages to open this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Dimension Data is bringing on Louis Meintjes (UAE-Emirates), who rode with the team from 2013-15, Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Drapac), and Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors) for 2018. Other turnover sees Tyler Farrar retiring, Omar Fraile going to Astana, Nathan Haas moving to Katusha, and Kristian Sbaragli signing with the Israel Cycling Academy.

In other transfer news, the Slipstream organization has confirmed a flurry of names that will stay with the organization as Education First comes on as title sponsor in 2018.

The team recently confirmed Mike Woods, Simon Clarke, and Alex Howes will continue next season. The latest to re-up is American Nate Brown with a two-year contract.

“This has been my best season yet,” said Brown. “I have a lot I am proud of, but I think my proudest moment was wearing the polka dot jersey in the Tour de France. It was always a dream to race the Tour, and wearing the polka dot jersey was beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Brown will remain a key part of the team’s core as Slipstream, which was on the verge of closing, undergoes some big changes going into 2018.

New arrivals include Sacha Modolo and Dan McLay in the sprints, and Mitch Docker to bolster the classics lineup.

Riders to leave include Alberto Bettiol and Patrick Bevin (BMC Racing), Dylan Van Baarle (Sky), Davide Villella (Astana), Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), Kristjan Koren (Bahrain-Merida), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), Wouter Wippert (Roompot-Loterij), and Ryan Mullen and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo). Andrew Talansky announced his retirement from professional racing to take on triathlon.

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GC riders brace for rough ride on Tour’s cobblestone stage Wed, 18 Oct 2017 16:36:40 +0000 The Tour de France returns to the cobblestones in a big way for 2018. The yellow jersey could be lost (or won) on stage 9.

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They’re back. The feared, cheered, and jeered cobblestones of northern France return to the Tour de France with a bang in 2018.

Intimidating portions of the bone-rattling pavé are a major ingredient of the first half of the engaging and spectacular route unveiled Tuesday for the 105th edition of cycling’s biggest show.

“We will see the return of the pavé,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said with glee. “There are 21.7km of the cobbles on 15 bone-shaking sectors.”

You could almost hear the collective gasp in the Palais des Congrés when Prudhomme revealed the details. These aren’t window-dressing cobblestones or a sprinkling of bumpy roads to spice up a finale. This is the real deal: 15 sectors at 21.7 kilometers of pavé on the 154km ninth stage from Arras to Roubaix.

To put that into perspective, this year’s Paris-Roubaix featured 55km of cobblestones over 29 sectors.

Just call it Le Petit Roubaix.

Tour de France
Stage 19 of the 2018 Tour de France has 21.7km of cobblestones. 

“You could see a lot happening that day,” said four-time champion Chris Froome (Sky). “It’s going to be very nervy and dangerous up in the northwest of France before we hit any of the big mountain stages. We could see the race torn to pieces.”

Froome is right. These cobbles will shape the 2018 Tour de France in a dramatic way.

With many bumpy sectors — ranging in length from 500m to 2.7km — stacked up in the meat of the stage, it’s hard to imagine the GC landscape not dramatically altered by the time the peloton trundles into Roubaix.

In fact, this many cobbled sectors will certainly be a race-changer. With today’s GC riders sculpting their bodies to as trim and light as possible, the cobblestones are the antithesis of what a modern grand tour rider is tailored to do.

Tour de France contenders are built to climb mountains, not barrel over the punishing treachery of France’s rough-cut pavé.

“No one will be calm before the morning of the stage,” said French star Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). “With so many sectors of pavé, there is danger lurking for everyone.”

The Tour stars were putting on a brave face Tuesday, but one can imagine teams are already taking a closer look at what lies ahead.

Preparation will be key to surviving the stage with GC options fully intact. Recon trips to the cobbles will be required and equipment testing will begin over the winter. A few of the GC stars might add early season spring classics to their racing calendars to become more comfortable racing on the cobbles. We’ve seen riders like Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, who’ve rarely if ever raced on the pavé, take on a few Belgian races to get a taste of the pavé in the past.

There’s good news. Roubaix’s most notorious cobbles — Carrefour de l’Arbre won’t be in the stage. There’s at least one five-star sector from Roubaix with the 900m sector at Mons-en-Pévèle. The longest sector, d’Auchiy à Bersée, is 2,700m about midway through the stage.

The cobbled sectors are spread out over roughly 100km of road. The first sector hits at 47km (1.6km at Thun), and the final sector at 8km from the line (1.4km at Hem). That means it will be an unending parade of treachery once the bunch piles onto the cobblestones.

Teams will certainly tweak their lineups to bring added muscle to help their scrawny GC captains survive the Tour’s harrowing first half.

“We will have to be very attentive on the stage with the pavé,” Quintana said Tuesday. “If I am surrounded by specialists like [Daniel] Bennati, [Imanol] Erviti, and [Juanjo] Rojas, I am sure I will be able to get through it without problems.”

That might be easier said than done. Positioning is key. And so is luck.

A lot of it depends on the weather. In 2014, the Tour traced 15km of cobbles over nine sectors, but under cold and rainy conditions. The race blew up, and Vincenzo Nibali emerged with a two-minute advantage to his nearest GC rivals.

The cobbles were back in 2015, but raced under drier conditions. As a result, the top GC favorites finished just three seconds behind stage winner Tony Martin. No worse for wear.

Vincenzo Nibali
Vincenzo Nibali’s brilliant ride on the wet cobblestones in 2014 helped him win his first Tour overall. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Do the cobblestones even belong in the Tour de France?

The pavé has been featured in the Tour three times since 2010. Thor Hushovd won that year, with Lars Boom winning in 2014, and Martin in 2015.

There is some debate within the sport about whether or not the cobblestones should even be in a grand tour. Some argue their inclusion is unfair and perhaps even dangerous to the GC riders, who rarely if ever race on the pavé. Others insist the cobblestones part of racing’s skillset, and that a grand tour winner should and must be a complete rider. It’s like in baseball; if you can’t hit a curveball, you probably won’t be a star.

Bardet, who clearly isn’t built for the cobbles, seemed ready to embrace the challenge.

“I love the historic dimension of the Tour,” Bardet said. “The cobbles? They’re part of the Tour. It is the beauty of our sport. It’s obvious that the pavé can seal our destiny, and that our race can end right there. It’s part of the allure of cycling, something is beyond the calculations.”

The return of the cobblestones will put a punctuation mark on the end of the first full intense week of racing in the 2018 Tour.

Whoever comes out of Roubaix with their GC options fully intact will have the pole position going into the Alps following the first rest day.

It should be a spectacular, hard-fought, and likely dramatic day of racing. A handful of GC riders could see six months of hard work and planning dashed in an instant. For survivors, the pavé might be a launching pad to a successful Tour.

What’s sure, the cobblestones will mark the 2018 Tour and reset the GC going into the second half of the race.

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Tour of Guangxi: Riders welcome WorldTour’s return to China Wed, 18 Oct 2017 14:04:48 +0000 The six-day race kicks off Thursday and marks the first UCI WorldTour event in China since the Tour of Beijing folded in 2014.

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BEIHAI, China (VN) —The Tour of Guangxi that starts Thursday in South China is good for the country and good for cycling globally, say cyclists gathered for the stage race.

The race marks China’s re-entry into the top-level UCI WorldTour since the Tour of Beijing ceased in 2014.

“Our team’s Australian and because we race most of our time in Europe, it’s good to have that connection,” Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) said. “It’s good for China and it’s good for the sport of cycling here in this country.”

“It’s always nice to share our sport in the entire world,” Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) said.

Most of the 121 cyclists competing, a list that includes Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) and Mikel Landa (Sky), arrived two days ago. After the rainstorms fell in China’s lush southeast corner Wednesday morning, they trained on the roads around Beihai. For many, including Alaphilippe and Ewan, it was their first time riding in China since the Tour of Beijing.

“This morning … there was a child [who was] 12 years old riding on a scooter right next to us with a huge smile and just loved seeing us on our bikes,” Alaphilippe added. “He had a big smile on his face and it’s an inspiration for him.

“I love traveling and you don’t see something like this in France or any other country. I think this race is good for the sport, good for the country, and I think we feel really welcome here and you can feel that.”

China, however, has struggled to bridge to Europe with its crop of stars. Unable to race at a high level, making a jump to the WorldTour seems almost impossible and few have succeeded.

Cheng Ji raced through 2016 for team Giant-Alpecin, now known as Sunweb. Meiyin Wang (Bahrain-Merida) is the only Chinese rider currently on a WorldTour team. The rest race in the Continental division.

“Yes, I am surprised really because I thought it would be a big peloton of Chinese riders,” Alaphilippe added. “But you know at a WorldTour race there are not that many Chinese riders. I figure it’s something special for [Wang] and I hope he does enjoy it, and I hope that he has a great result here.”

Ewan noted that he thinks the race will help cycling in China, “and I hope so. It’s really growing here and I heard over the last five years, cycling in China has gone through the roof. Hopefully, it keeps going like that. Hopefully, cycling becomes more of a global sport than more of just a European one.”

Wang laughed when asked if he felt the weight of China’s 1.38 billion citizens on his shoulders.

“I don’t think that the pressure is so much, I am going to ride relaxed and follow the team’s orders,” Wang said. “For me, it’s just a race and I don’t have additional stress.

“The Tour of Guangxi is very important for China, especially for the Chinese fans. Everyone is excited to see high-level races come back to China after a few years ago. The organizer has done hard work to show what China can do to the rest of the world. The Tour of Guangxi is very important for the organizer and China.”

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Quintana confirms he’ll lead Movistar at 2018 Tour Wed, 18 Oct 2017 12:45:48 +0000 The Colombian said the route for the French grand tour suits his riding style.

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Nairo Quintana said it loud and clear: I will be the leader at the 2018 Tour de France.

The Movistar captain, in Paris on Tuesday for the unveiling of the 2018 Tour course, confirmed he will be the captain of Movistar’s Tour ship next year.

“I will be the team leader next year for the Tour squad. It’s always been like that,” Quintana told the Spanish wire service EFE. “It’s worked out with the directors, and they will support me with the best team possible.”

Normally, that wouldn’t even be a question for the three-time Tour podium finisher. The arrival of Spanish star Mikel Landa offers a new level of intrigue inside the Movistar bus. Landa just missed the Tour podium by one second this year, while Quintana struggled to 12th, the first time in his career that he wasn’t on the Tour podium.

Some have suggested that Landa will be angling for a shot at Tour leadership, but Quintana insisted that is not the case.

“I don’t even know if Landa will race [the Tour],” Quintana told journalists. “We lived through similar situations like this with Alejandro [Valverde], and together we’ll do what’s right for Movistar.”

Those questions might be getting ahead of themselves. Landa has yet to outline his season goals for 2018, and Movistar will huddle with staff and riders in December to map out the coming season. Valverde, who is recovering from a devastating injury at this year’s Tour, already confirmed he will not be racing the Tour next year.

All that points to Quintana, three times a Tour podium man in four starts, remaining leader of the powerful Movistar squad.

On Tuesday, Quintana said he liked what he saw in the unconventional 2018 Tour route that’s packed with surprises.

“I think the route favors me pretty well because we’ll face a lot of mountains,” Quintana said. “And there’s not too many kilometers of time trialing, so I think I should be able to do pretty well.”

In July, Quintana wasn’t at his typical level, and said he will make adjustments coming into 2018. That means he won’t be racing the Giro d’Italia again.

“Maybe the word ‘error’ isn’t the right one, because you always learn,” he said of his 2017 Giro-Tour double attempt. “I will modify my calendar. I won’t race as many races, and I won’t try to win all the ones I go to. I’d like to arrive as fresh as possible in July, which will be my main objective of the year.”

Some have whispered that Quintana might already be past his prime. His attacks don’t seem as lethal as they once were, and other rivals, such as Romain Bardet and Tom Dumoulin, are moving up.

“At 28, I think my best is yet to come,” he said. “I think I am coming into the best years of my career. I am more mature, more experienced. Of course, I believe I can win the Tour. That’s what we’re working for.”

Quintana’s confidence remains firmly intact. He still dreams of being the first Colombian to win the Tour de France. Four-time winner Chris Froome (Sky) remains his nemesis.

“Froome is beatable,” Quintana said. “If he wasn’t, I’d have to figure out something else to do.”

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VN podcast, ep. 55: Tour de France? Tour de Ambush! Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:36:02 +0000 The Tour de France unveils its 2018 route. We've got to hand it to ASO for thinking outside the box.

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Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

The Tour de France unveils its 2018 route. We’ve got to hand it to ASO for thinking outside the box. This could be the route that breaks Chris Froome and Team Sky. Or, it might be just a gimmicky way to include Roubaix cobblestones. Fred Dreier, Spencer Powlison, and Andrew Hood analyze the key stages, name some favorites and opine on the Tour’s ambush-friendly route.

In our segments, you #AskACat3 and we answer with all of our usual wisdom. Then, we pick our VN Podiums for the all-time best Tour de France villains.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor.

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Tour sticks with one-day format for women’s La Course Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:34:52 +0000 Women's La Course race will start on Lake Annecy and take on Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière.

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In addition to the men’s Tour de France route announced Tuesday, organizer ASO revealed the route of the fifth women’s La Course race. The one-day event will be held July 17 in tandem with stage 10 of the men’s race.

Up until 2016, the race was held on the Champs-Élysées circuit. It was a sprinters’ affair, and the first three winners were Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, and Chloe Hosking, 2014-2016, respectively.

In 2017, the race moved to Col d’Izoard for a summit finish. At just 67.5km, the race was criticized as too short. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) won the day. She went on to win world time trial championships in Bergen, Norway in September.

Tour organizers may not have gone quite so short this year with a 118-kilometer route, but they may still be criticized for not expanding the race to multiple days.

Regardless, La Course will be one of the season’s most important and visible women’s races. The route starts in Duingt, on Lake Annecy. It will climb Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière before the downhill run to Grand-Bornand. It will be an abbreviated version of the 159km men’s race that day.

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Roundtable: Will 2018 route favor Froome? How many can Sagan win? Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:02:43 +0000 The Tour de France's 2018 route is unconventional. Here are our takes on the cobblestones, short climbing days, and Froome.

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Oh-Em-Gee, ASO revealed the 2018 Tour de France route Tuesday, and boy is it a doozy! There are dirt roads, pavé, and even a super-short 65km climbing stage. Are our French friends boldly thinking outside of the proverbial grand tour box, or is this route simply a newfangled gimmick? Let’s roundtable!

What was your first reaction when you pulled up the map of the 2018 Tour de France?

Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Hey, that looks like France to me! What’s that? A 65km stage? Oh, so like a third rest day?

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Hmmm, had I seen this somewhere before? No, not really, but the suspense of the ‘big show’ to announce the Tour route has been somewhat been diminished from all the leaks and reporting that slowly drips-drips-drips details about the route in the months leading up to today. But that aside, it’s a fantastic route overall, with real challenges, risk-taking design, original planning, without forgetting the history of the Tour. It’s a near-perfect Tour course.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: This gravel movement is officially over — even the Tour de France has gotten on the bandwagon. Pretty soon they’ll be selling cycling fanny packs and 32mm tires at Urban Outfitters.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegsThis is like putting an oversized spoiler and spinner rims on a classic car like a Jaguar E-Type. ASO put a lot of gimmicks into the world’s biggest bike race. It isn’t a good look. But hey, maybe we’ll finally get an exciting race for yellow?

What rider is this route designed to favor?

Chris: I was expecting to see more time trial miles, increasing the likelihood of a duel between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Or, perhaps the thinking is that Dumoulin can handle the cobbles more than other contenders. Or maybe the short, punchy stages are an attempt to give Froome the heebie-jeebies. In any case, the best riders will rise to the occasion. This route, though unique on paper, is still the Tour de France. Ultimately, I think Froome is the man to beat.

Andrew: The survivor. On paper, it might favor the climbers, especially with all the climbs packed into the final half of the Tour. But that run from the Vendée to Roubaix is going to see a few big names out of the frame, as well as some significant time differences even before hitting the climbs. The 2018 Tour winner will be multi-faceted, strong, consistent, and very lucky.

Fred: I think it is designed to not favor any specific GC rider of this generation. It has a challenge for everyone. Since Froome is the most well-rounded grand tour rider right now, then I have to say it suits him best.

Spencer: I guess it favors Sky’s Gianni Moscon because he can finish fifth in Paris-Roubaix then smash the world’s best climbers in the Vuelta? In all seriousness, it favors pure climbers who have enough teammates to keep them safe in the first week and on even time after the TTT. That stage 20 individual time trial is hilly as well.

Which stage will have a bigger impact: Stage 9 and its 21.7km of cobbles or the ultra-short 65km stage 17?

Chris: Much of it will depend on the race situation during those two respective stages, as well as the weather for stage 9. It would be incredible to see another day like we did in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali crushed it over the slick cobbles, dropping Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara along the way. My God that was awesome.

Andrew: The cobbles will only matter if some big GC riders lose time. Stage 9 is a day to endure and to limit losses. The ultra-short mountain stage in the Pyrenees is one to press the advantage, be it someone looking to defend a lead, or a rival looking to revive their GC ambitions. Aggressive racing, however, will pay off on both days.

Fred: Stage 9 has the potential to have the biggest impact. I’m already preparing for the sad post-stage interviews with Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, and Romain Bardet.

Spencer: It seems like Tour cobble stages are often duds. That day in 2014 was one exception. I’m expecting fireworks on stage 17 — it climbs right out of the gate and doesn’t relent. Maybe I’m taking a shine to these gimmicks after all …

How many stages will Peter Sagan win this Tour?

Chris: Zero. He will be disqualified on stage 6 for taking on “unauthorized refreshments” from a roadside fan.

Andrew: Two. This year’s course features plenty of lumpy terrain, but it mostly comes in the first half, so the sprinters and stage-hunters won’t be giving away any of their chances. Sagan will be in the top-five nearly every stage that doesn’t finish on a summit or against the clock. Two, maybe three stage-wins, plus the green jersey.

Fred: Three. He can win the cobbled stage, a flat stage, and then one of the punchy stages during the first week.

Spencer: Sorry Sagan, you’ll only win one in 2018. This will be Fernando Gaviria’s Tour when it comes to the sprints.

Which stage will most decide the overall?

Chris: I have to agree with Froome that stage 12 and its 71km of climbing over the Col de La Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and Alpe d’Huez offers someone like him the chance to take control of the race by the scruff of its neck.

Andrew: Paris. You gotta survive this “Tour de Ambush” to win, and that means all the way through the final time trial. The boobytraps come thick and often, all the way to Paris. No sleep ’till the Champs.

Fred: I’m with Chris and Chris. l’Alpe d’Huez is a spot where guys can and will lose minutes. Set your TiVo, cycling fans, that stage is one to watch.

Spencer: It’ll come down to the final time trial on stage 20. That day is preceded by a heinously difficult Pyrenean stage — Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque. Plus, the TT will be hilly and technical. How appropriate to have a spicy finish in Espelette, the place where they grow pimento peppers.

Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast:

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Tour de France 2018: Five key stages Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:08:54 +0000 The 2018 Tour de France route is revealed. Here are five key stages, from Roubaix's cobbles to Alpe d'Huez's switchbacks.

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PARIS (AFP) — AFP takes a look at five of the potentially decisive stages on the 2018 Tour de France route unveiled by organizers on Tuesday:

Stage 3: Cholet – Cholet, 35km (team time trial)

Chris Froome’s Team Sky wilted at world team time trial championships in Bergen this September as the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner Dutchman Tom Dumoulin led Sunweb to victory over the 45km route. This test is shorter, but Sky will have to think long and hard about the makeup of the team it selects in a tactical balance between the power for here and the lightweight climbers Froome will need for the slog through the mountains.

Stage 9: Arras – Roubaix, 154km

Tour de France
Stage 19 of the 2018 Tour de France has 21.7km of cobblestones. 

Pure climbers will be fretting about their eventual place on the podium when they look at this one with 15 cobbled sections from the fabled Paris-Roubaix classic. It will be the longest section of cobbles for the Tour since the 1980s. This stage requires power and endurance with middleweight riders doing well. It starts and ends early to avoid clashing with the World Cup final.

Stage 12: Bourg Saint-Maurice – Alpe d’Huez, 175km

Stage 12 features a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez.

Not one, not two, but three feared climbs feature on this Alpine stage. It first tackles the Col de La Madeleine, then the Col de la Croix de Fer, and finally the Alpe d’Huez’s 21 mythical turns lead to the summit finish. With almost 71km in total of climbing, defending champion Chris Froome thinks the Tour can be won or lost here.

Stage 17: Bagneres-de-Luchon – Saint-Lary-Soulan (Col de Portet), 65km

Tour de France
Stage 17 is exceptionally short at 64km with more than 3,000 meters of climbing.

This is a short, sharp shock. Tour organizers believe this stunningly beautiful backdrop and summit finish at 2,215m will encourage attacks. Pure climbers should thrive in the rarefied air.

Stage 20: Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle – Espelette, 31km (individual time trial)

Tour de France
Stage 20’s individual time trial should be hilly and technical.

Froome and Dumoulin are already on many people’s minds when they look at this penultimate stage. It’s a pure 31-kilometer test with a hilly profile in France’s Basque country. Judging by how Dumoulin beat Froome in Bergen on the tough individual time trial course at worlds, the Dutchman may be feeling good about his chances in July.

Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast:

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Froome: Joining Tour’s five-win club won’t be easy Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:25:56 +0000 The four-time Tour de France champion reacted to the 2018 Tour route by saying it will be a massive test for the riders.

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Chris Froome (Sky) knows he’s got his work cut out for him if he wants to join the five-win club at the Tour de France next summer.

After getting his first glimpse Tuesday of the 2018 Tour route, Froome admitted that winning a fifth yellow jersey won’t be easy as he seeks to join cycling’s most elite club.

“We’ve got a massive challenge ahead of us for next year,” Froome told Eurosport. “It’s a Tour de France that tests every aspect of cycling.”

Froome, 32, will line up next July as the five-star favorite. No rider has won four yellow jerseys without winning a fifth.

On Tuesday, after watching the official route presentation in Paris, Froome singled out the stage ending as at Alpe d’Huez as the “queen stage” for 2018.

“I think the ‘queen stage’ will be the Alpe d’Huez stage,” he said. “With 5,000 meters of climbing, that will be the biggest challenge of the Tour.”

The route features relatively few kilometers against the clock, which means the climbers will be licking their chops as they try to take down Froome and Team Sky’s dominance at the Tour. All the major climbs will be packed into the final half of the race, but Froome pointed to the dangers lurking in the first week.

Crosswinds, narrow roads, and the inclusion of 15 sectors of cobblestones in stage 9 mean that the race could be lost even before reaching the mountains. The only year Froome missed out on the Tour, in 2014, was when he crashed out in the first week.

“That’s going to make the Tour very nervous until we reach the Alps,” Froome said. “It will be a very nervous race. That region in the northwest part of France is known to be very windy. That will play a big part as well.”

Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford called the Tour route “balanced,” and said it will require a complete performance to win.

“It’s a very balanced route, and it will favor the most complete rider,” Brailsford said. “There’s a team time trial, there’s pavé, stages with a lot of wind, mountains, including one that’s only 65km. It’s a route that favors a complete rider, but it’s clear there are more mountains than time trials.”

Hot off winning the Tour and Vuelta a España in consecutive fashion this season, Froome was awarded the Velo d’Or prize as the best rider in 2017 on Tuesday as well.

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UAE-Emirates confirms Aru arrival Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:07:51 +0000 The 27-year-old Italian will ride for the Middle Eastern team for at least the next three seasons.

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UAE-Emirates confirmed cycling’s worst-kept secret Tuesday, announcing that Fabio Aru will join on a three-year deal.

The 27-year-old Italian leaves Astana, his professional home since 2012, to join the ever improving lineup at the Emirati team.

“With his performances, he will contribute to promoting an ideal team image,” said UAE-Emirates manager Carlo Saronni. “He will likely help us reach important competitive milestones.”

Aru is the latest arrival to the bolstered UAE-Emirates roster for 2018 that also includes new arrivals Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff, and Rory Sutherland.

Aru turned pro with Astana in 2012 and later won the 2015 Vuelta a España with the team as well as stages in all three grand tours.

At Astana, Aru shared leadership with Vincenzo Nibali through 2016, after which the Sicilian switched to Bahrain-Merida for 2017. At UAE-Emirates, he will split the calendar with Martin.

“I thank [UAE-Emirates] for the faith they’ve placed in me, and I hope to live up to their expectations,” Aru said.

Aru is expected to tackle the Giro in 2018, opening the door for Martin to return to the Tour.

Aru’s departure from Astana, coupled with the tragic death of Michele Scarponi this year, leaves the Kazakh team short of GC leadership. The squad doesn’t look to be adding a big name for 2018, meaning it will lean on Jakob Fuglsang and emerging star Miguel Ángel López. New arrivals Jan Hirt (12th in the 2017 Giro) and Spanish climber Omar Fraile will see more opportunities.

Aru’s move is the latest in what’s been a surprisingly busy rider market going into 2018.

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2018 Tour route: Froome faces steep challenge Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:35:25 +0000 ASO unveiled the parcours for the 2018 Tour de France, and it's packed with challenges — and also lacks a long, flat time trial.

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PARIS (AFP) — Chris Froome could face his toughest Tour de France challenge so far in 2018 after organizers on Tuesday unveiled a route and format that is potentially unfavorable to the reigning champion.

The race, which starts on the island of Noirmoutier off the Vendee coast on July 7, lacks a long, flat individual time trial where four-time winner Froome often pulverizes opponents.

Six mountain stages and four hilly stages are packed into the latter part of the Tour before it ends on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 29.

“It’s different every year and it’s difficult every year,” Froome said.

“I like the look of the Alpe d’Huez stage, for me that’s the ‘Queen’ stage on this Tour,” he added, referring to the potentially decisive stage.

Stage 9 follows a cobbled road to Roubaix, echoing the Paris-Roubaix race.

“The wind will be tough in the Vendee but we’re used to that. As for the cobbles, I wasn’t counting on racing Paris-Roubaix this year but there you go,” Froome joked.

Such relentless hill and mountain terrain may well grind down Froome’s protective entourage that has so successfully snuffed out attacks in recent Tours.

British sprinter Mark Cavendish said he was not looking to the hilly challenge.

“There’s lots of sprint opportunities early on but the second bit, I’m not really sure I’ll get that far,” said the Dimension Data rider with 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name.

The much lighter Briton Simon Yates, who won the best young rider competition at this year’s Tour, had other concerns.

“I’m a very light man, so I’m not looking forward to the wind in the Vendee,” said Yates, who rides for Orica-Scott.

On top of that, teams will be allowed just eight riders in 2018 rather than the usual nine, leaving Froome less protected by his Sky teammates than he has been in years past.

Breathless 12 days

The 2018 route for the world’s most prestigious cycling race is basically split into two sections.

The first is largely flat but features a series of potentially punishing challenges. They include a 35-kilometer team time trial on day three on windswept plains, and then a Brittany run to the pretty seaside town of Quimper on day five featuring 10 hills.

The route designers have also built in two ascents of the feared Mur de Bretagne in stage 10.

When asked if the 2018 route would be tough for Sky captain Froome, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said all the riders taking part were champions.

“But the winner will need the stamina to roll through windy plains and do well in the team time trial, he’ll need to be able to resist the cobbles and have enough steam to get through all the mountains,” Prudhomme told reporters.

“I know of a few such specimens from the Netherlands and from Britain,” he joked, without referring to Froome or the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin by name.

Route designer Thierry Gouvenou said the switch between the two sections “is perhaps the greatest challenge of this Tour.”

After a rest day on which the riders fly from the north coast to Annecy, there follows three visually stunning Alpine mountain stages, four hilly stages, and three Pyrenean mountain stages inside a breathless 12 days.

Many of France’s great mountains will be featured, such as Alpe d’Huez and Col du Tourmalet.

But the two key mountain challenges are a brutal, uphill 31km individual time trial and a short 65km 17th stage featuring 38km of climbs to a summit finish at the Col de Portet.

Portet, included for the first time, is the highest summit, at 2,215 meters, on this Tour de France.

Gouvenou said team strategy would be crucial.

“There’s only eight riders per team so it’s a real strategic decision between the rouleurs and the climbers,” he said.

“And there are a few other surprises hidden in there along the way,” he promised.

2018 Tour de France

Stage 1: July 7, Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte, 189km
Stage 2: July 8, Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon, 183km
Stage 3: July 9, Cholet, 35km team time trial
Stage 4: July 10, La Baule to Sarzeau, 192km
Stage 5: July 11, Lorient to Quimper, 203km
Stage 6: July 12, Brest to Mûr-de-Bretagne Guerlédan, 181km
Stage 7: July 13, Fougères to Chartres, 231km
Stage 8: July 14, Dreux to Amiens Métropole, 181km
Stage 9: July 15, Arras Citadelle to Roubaix, 154km

July 16: Rest day

Stage 10: July 17, Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, 159km
Stage 11: July 18, Albertville to La Rosière 1850, 108km
Stage 12: July 19, Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Alpe d’Huez, 175km
Stage 13: July 20, Bourg-d’Oisans to Valence, 169km
Stage 14: July 21, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Mende, 187km
Stage 15: July 22, Millau to Carcassonne, 181km

July 23: Rest day

Stage 16: July 24, Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 218km
Stage 17: July 25, Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan col de Portet,
Stage 18: July 26, Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau, 172km
Stage 19: July 27, Lourdes to Laruns, 200km
Stage 20: July 28, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, 31km time trial
Stage 21: July 29, Houilles to Paris Champs-Elysées, 115km

Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast:

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Bakelants back surgery successful Mon, 16 Oct 2017 18:34:51 +0000 Belgian Jan Bakelants is out of intensive care on Monday three days after back surgery following a crash in Il Lombardia.

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PARIS (AFP) — Jan Bakelants, who broke two vertebrae and suffered seven rib fractures in a shocking fall during Il Lombardia, came out of intensive care on Monday three days after back surgery.

The 31-year-old Belgian, who rides for Ag2r La Mondiale, suffered the horror fall on a perilous descent in the Italian one-day classic in early October.

“The operation has been a success,” Ag2r said on Monday of the procedure on his A3 vertebrae that took place in Belgium Friday.

“Jan can go home later in the week and continue his convalescence there, but it’s too early to say when he’ll be back in training.”

Another Belgian, Laurens De Plus, was also hurled over his handlebars and off the edge of the same road into a deep ravine during the race in northern Italy.

Two other riders also crashed on the same hazardous section of the route as Bakelants.

Italian Simone Petilli suffered a broken collarbone and shoulder blade, and fractures to his neck and one vertebra, as well as a concussion and a cut to his forehead.

Colombian Daniel Martinez escaped any fractures.

Photographer Kristof Ramon posted this photo of Bakelants’s bike after the crash:

Most surreal & horrific picture I ever made during a cycling race... #IlLombardia #4metersup

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Inside Slipstream’s brush with death Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:52:50 +0000 U.S. based Team Slipstream was on the brink of collapse in late 2017. Here's how it survived and secured a better future.

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THE PHONE CALL CAME IN ON AUGUST 25, early in the morning. Jonathan Vaughters picked it up, listened for a few minutes, and was sure his team was dead.

Vaughters and Slipstream Sports, the management company behind Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling, had been on the sponsorship prowl for a year. They were already looking, really. Since 2010 the team endured two mergers and added or changed title sponsors five more times (Garmin, Garmin-Transitions, Garmin-Sharp, Garmin-Barracuda, Cannondale). Slipstream kept moving, grasping onto whatever funding it could find because cycling’s sponsorship model punishes idleness with death.

“We’re cockroaches in a nuclear apocalypse,” Vaughters says.

Despite the near-constant financial flux, never before August 25 had the team been so close to collapse. That fateful, early-morning call came from a sponsor the team had courted for months. At the eleventh hour, it pulled the plug. The deal was off. Vaughters has declined to name the company.

Slipstream suddenly needed $7 million to simply meet the UCI’s financial requirements for a WorldTour team. It had just weeks to find it.

ON SATURDAY, August 26, 24 hours later, Slipstream employees — riders and staff — received an email signed by Vaughters and the team’s longtime benefactor, Doug Ellis.

The email released all riders and staff from their 2018 contracts.

“Ninety-nine times out of 100, this is the end,” Vaughters says of the message. “That should have been the end.”

In fact, by the time the email went out, most of the team already knew of the disaster. In the hours after Vaughters received the first phone call, he told agents and some riders the bad news. Alex Howes, who has ridden with the program for over a decade, was drinking a late-season beer with a friend when his call came in. “It was somber,” Howes recalls. “He started the call with, ‘I’m calling you as a friend.’ I got off the phone and ordered another one.” Michael Rutherford and Robbie Hunter, both rider agents, say they found out shortly after Vaughters received the news. “The info given to us was that things were in dire straights,” Hunter says. “Every agent out there gets on the horn and it becomes a race against time. You know every other agent is doing the same thing.”

Although they are rivals on the race course, fellow pro cycling teams empathize with Cannondale-Drapac’s plight. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media | (File).

According to sources within the team, the $7 million funding gap was mostly a function of the team’s existing sponsors, primarily Cannondale, decreasing their financial commitments. Vaughters had known of the funding shortfall all year. He told riders and staff in July that the team would go on thanks to a new sponsor. He signed a three-year deal with Rigoberto Urán based on a sponsor that itself had not yet signed the dotted line. Then the sponsor walked.

According to Vaughters, boardroom dynamics within the unnamed company broke the deal. Vaughters thought that he needed a majority vote of the potential sponsor’s board when in fact the final vote had to be unanimous. He felt blindsided by the bad news.

“I am no saint in this,” he says.

In response, Vaughters could have kept quiet. Team management was under no obligation to tell staff or riders, not until the UCI’s deadline more than a month later. In fact, many teams have kept similar news quiet — doomed projects like the Australian Pegasus team waited until the final moments to inform staff and riders in 2011. Vaughters did not. He made a rather risky decision to take the news public, to inform riders immediately and release them from their contracts. He knew that doing so meant he could lose his best riders to other teams, further decreasing the likelihood of finding a new sponsor.

“If you just keep rolling and keep searching and don’t let anyone out of their contracts, or even tell them, until September 30, that’s the best way to survive as a team,” Vaughters says. “But is that the best for the people, the riders and the staff? That’s what kept me up at night. Am I doing the best for the team or the riders and staff? Those things can be diametrically opposed.”

Rigoberto Uran at a Tour de France press conference. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The decision likely led to the loss of more than one sought-after rider. “It did turn out to his disadvantage because he had a number of riders who got snatched up ASAP,” says Hunter, the agent. “If he had kept quiet and said nothing he could have said at the last second, ‘We don’t have anything.’ That would have saved a number of riders from going to other teams.”

The team had been in discussions with young American talent Neilson Powless, but those talks fell apart during the funding gap, according to Vaughters. Powless ended up at LottoNL-Jumbo. Classics star Dylan van Baarle moved to Sky during the gap as well. “That was probably a matter of three to four days,” Vaughters says. “If I had announced EF earlier we wouldn’t have lost him.”

Riders had every right to leave, of course. With all 2018 contracts nullified and no guarantee that the team would go on, agents scrambled and staff polished resumes. Meanwhile, Vaughters and Ellis and some of their high-powered friends — all the way up to former secretary of state John Kerry — stepped in to aid in the sponsor search. The team started a crowdfunding effort that eventually raised more than half a million dollars from nearly 4,700 individuals. It was an effort that would prove to be worth far more than the tangible dollar amount.

The team’s marquee rider, Urán, gave Vaughters two weeks to find the necessary cash. If Urán left, the team would be gone. Vaughters was sure of that. He had 14 days, starting August 26.

ON AUGUST 31, six days after the crisis erupted, Vaughters sent another mass email.

He signed off with a fingers-crossed emoji and his initials.

The good news was a percolating deal with EF Education First, an international education company. Three days prior, one of EF’s employees, a Slipstream fan, spotted the team’s crowdfunding efforts and reached out to Vaughters on LinkedIn. Should he send something up the chain? Vaughters said yes.

EF and Slipstream had a prior relationship. Vaughters and Slipstream President Matt Johnson had pitched EF in 2014, when the Tour de France went to London. That pitch had ultimately failed. This time the stakes were much higher.

Vaughters got a mystery phone call and picked it up. It was the company’s chairman, Philip Hult. The two talked for two hours.

“I walked him through everything,” Vaughters says. “By this point in time, I already thought we were dead, so there was no salesmanship going on. I was just like, ‘Listen, here’s the deal, we have another five days here.’ He said, ‘Fly to Boston tomorrow.’”

The negotiation was short. Vaughters says the crowdfunding helped his cause. He could point to fans that were financially invested in the team’s survival. Kerry made a call, too. That afternoon, Vaughters sent out the fingers-crossed emoji email.

John Kerry visited the Cannondale-Drapac team at the 2017 Tour. Photo: Tim De Waele |

THE COLLAPSE, or potential collapse, of a professional cycling team pulls nearly 50 people into its dark embrace. There are the riders, of course. Most are well-paid; some are famous. They are likely to find other teams, though they may take a pay cut. But there’s also the bus driver, Andrea Bisogno, and the mechanics, Geoff Brown and Sam Elenes and James Griffin and Jorge Queiros. There are the soigneurs, Sophie Roullois and Alyssa Morahan and Gary Becket. There are press officers and chefs and directors and logistics managers. None have agents racing against time for them.

They do, though, have the benefit of longevity. A good mechanic will remain so; a professional athlete’s time at the top is finite. Earning potential can be quickly squandered. The result is that both riders and staff, even those highly loyal to Slipstream, were forced to begin looking elsewhere.

“Most of us were good to give him some time,” says Howes, one of the team’s original riders. He’s been with the program since it was a U23 development team. But even he had to start looking. “If there’s a hole in the boat, and you think you can fix the hole, you’re going to do what you can to help fix the hole,” he says. “But if there’s nothing you can do to fix the hole you’re going to find another boat.”

And then there’s Vaughters. In the end, he’s responsible for them all, their fates deeply intertwined. “I’m the captain of the ship,” he says, equally fond of a good boat metaphor. “If this thing goes under, the captain doesn’t get in a lifeboat. You get to go live at the bottom of the ocean with the Titanic.” There were times, he says, when the Titanic option felt preferable. “There were moments I wanted to die at the bottom. And it’s a very public thing, which makes it even worse. It affected friendships that I have. It affected my family. I was obsessed with making it live and hurting as few people as possible.”

Much of that stress seemed to be of Vaughters’s own creation. He’d been relying on some creative accounting — to put it kindly — for the last few years to effectively inflate the team’s budget beyond its actual means. Every team in the WorldTour has a bank guarantee with the UCI, so that if the team folds, salaries continue to be paid for about three months. Slipstream had been leaning on this guarantee, only funding itself through October of each year. If it didn’t find a sponsor by then, it would run out of money and the UCI would pay salaries through the end of the year.

“It allowed me to get guys like Rigo [Urán] and Sep [Vanmarcke] and Taylor Phinney,” Vaughters says. It also meant that the team was $3 million in the hole at the end of every season. Vaughters says this debt was not part of the $7 million he needed to keep the team alive, but it was debt that EF, or any new sponsor, would have to eventually pay down.

Though Vaughters had a savior for 2018 in hand, it had taken a great personal toll. And the one-year deal he initially worked out with EF didn’t solve his long-term shortfalls or the fact that he was finishing every year $3 million in debt. It didn’t prevent him from starting the search over next year, going through all of this again.

“I was looking at it and thinking, ‘F—k, this is the same issue,’” he says. “I don’t want to do this again. In fact, I refuse to do this. It’s ruined so many things in my life. I don’t want to do this. Emotionally, I couldn’t go through it all again.”

He decided to gamble. He returned to his new sponsor and told them he didn’t want their money, not for just one year. It was a longer deal or nothing.

“We took a huge risk,” he says. “Fortunately it turned out.”

Jonathan Vaughters. Photo: Caley Fretz |

WITH FIVE DAYS LEFT in Uran’s two-week window, Vaughters returned to EF and told them just that. He could not and would not scramble again. He needed more than one year. EF agreed, on one condition: It had to take ownership of Slipstream.

EF sent staff to Boulder, Colorado to look into Slipstream’s books, go through them line by line. What they saw was a reflection of cycling’s persistent unpredictability. “They said, ‘Okay, we see this is really helter-skelter revenue. We get that’s really hard to deal with, and it totally distracts you from running the team,’” Vaughters says. “So since they want to have a really effective, winning team for the long-term, they agreed to do the three-year deal, or hell, even do a 10-year deal. But they needed to own the team, and not just sponsor the team.” By press time, EF already had final say in the team’s staffing decisions, according to Vaughters.

Turning down a one-year deal, saying ‘no’ to millions of dollars, was a risk. “It was crazy, actually,” Vaughters says. But it worked. Suddenly, this deal was unlike any other Vaughters had brokered. It was now an asset purchase from Ellis, who was the majority owner of Slipstream. Everything still had to be finalized before the UCI’s September 30 deadline.

On Saturday, September 7, two days before Urán’s deadline, Vaughters sent out another team-wide email at 7:53 p.m.

Vaughters says he sent it the moment he was sure, beyond any doubt, that the deal would happen. He’d already been burned once this summer, after all.

Two days later, September 9, the team made a formal announcement. It fed the story to select media (including this magazine) in advance and set an embargo, then delayed that embargo for 30 minutes as final details were ironed out. “Those stories ran within five minutes of the [Letter of Intent] actually being executed,” Vaughters says.

“Then we had obviously an incredibly tight timeline, the bank guarantee had to be rolled over to a new entity. It’s a hard deadline of September 30. There’s no second chance.”

There is a second chance, though. This team is second chances incarnate. Like cockroaches in a nuclear apocalypse, Slipstream survived, again.

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